Company’s in crisis and families in crises often contains drama and personal stories on choices taken when being at a cross-road in their lives. This brings good opportunities, with the right angles and stories, to gain momentum in the media. It is possible in many cases to spot companies in crises via accountings. But contacting the owner directly (e.g. by telemarketing) is a delicate matter. It is therefore essential to create a broad knowledge of EW, and to use a non-stigmatizing language(true heroes of Danish business life) in order to make the companies seek EW instead of the other way around
Below we have tried to give an account of the considerations and experiences we have gained in EWDK since the beginning of 2008, where the marketing and visibility of EWDK started. Some of the tools reflect a different time with a rather small use of the internet and social media and a greater tradition for using the (expensive) printed media.
Denmark is one the most digitalized countries in the world, which our final supposition must be seen in the light of.
1. Special relations upon establishments of contact with companies in crisis.
Leadership of a minor company in crisis is owner- managementship at full blast. That is why this paragraphs heading is misleading: It is the owner/owners we must influence to get him/her talking, and not only the company alone represented by an employed leader. An owner-manager is far more personally and familial affected by a crisis than an employed leader typically would be. This means that there are specific challenges in establishing the contact.
In 2011 we wrote a minor article together with a professor from Syddansk Universitet (the university of Southern Denmark) called “Barrierer for kriseindgreb” (Barriers for crisis intervention). It focuses on the difference between big companies with employed leadership and minor owner-managed companies. We expect to translate (some of) the article later, but need to agree with the co-author and the publicher. Below are some special relations that applies in owner-managed companies.
- The owner often has a great dislike against carrying out any necessary cutbacks. The owner knows the employees, might have trained them, and therefor dismisses too late.
- Particularly male owners have a crucial part of their identity build up around their ownership and the company. This can mean great ability to displace realities.
- That is why the owner takes long time for recognizing the seriousness of the situation. Before the owner gets this realization, the owner is not willing to talk with EW.
- When the realization has set in, the owner might anxiety and discomfort with letting other have the same insight.
- Often his/her spouse is not familiar with how bad things are. Therefore, the owner might also be afraid of the spouse’s insight and potential reaction.
- The owner’s experiences might be that he/she has done everything possible to save the company, which can be an argument for the owner for not involving others.
The above is mentioned because it is important for which methods that are appropriate when contacting owners in crisis, and why we in EWDK rarely get the companies in the early stages of crisis. It is important to reach the network of the owner.
2. What we did in EWDK
In the first year a rather large amount of money was allocated for raising awareness, visibility and marketing, which is reflected in the initial choices.
- The first version of a communication plan and strategy was drawn up. From the beginning, we identified at least 10 different stakeholders that we should consider simultaneously with a targeted communication effort towards the primary target group.
- Production of a small brochure in 2 versions targeted the companies and potential volunteers.
- The establishment of the first version of earlywarning.dk
- The creation of Google AdWords campaigns
- Insertion of advertising campaigns in regional newspapers
- Banners with advertising campaigns in chosen medias
- Implementation of a TV campaign in the regional TV-stations
- Production of a ‘newspaper’ that was distributed in large number to both the primary and secondary target group. The ‘newspaper’ was produced in 4 versions, - one was targeted the banks.
- Composing concrete description of cases to Earlywarning.dk
- Production of articles regarding topics such as companies in crisis for use in earlywarning.dk
- Systematic efforts towards national, regional and local media including nationwide TV- and radio stations.
- Ghostwriter contribution to the media; for instance, an employers’ association as the sender.
- Articles to banks, accountants, local business associations and so on.
- Articles to the target group. It is probably not possible to hold an information meeting for companies in crisis alone. Our strategy was to be ‘wrapped up’ in others events, so everybody thought they could show up without being looked at as a company in crisis.
- Launch of a web newsmail, primarily targeted the secondary target group.
Earlywarning.dk is the pivotal point, naturally. Google AdWords and the campaigns are also important, because it ensures that we are being found when an owner (or spouse) have acknowledged that something is wrong. Media coverage is a relatively cheap visibility, which has a long-term effect on all target groups and stakeholders.
Printed materials are almost unnecessary and expensive to produce. Advertisements, including banners, have not had a noticeable effect compared to the expenses. Remarketing is not something that we have used yet, but we think it will be quite efficient. We are not allowed to use it at the moment due to policy standard and lack in our cookie protection.
3. External Collaborators
Because it is so difficult for the individual owner to contact us on his/her own initiative, it is crucial to build up knowledge among the owner’s network, and especially that the network has faith and trust in us. This can only be achieved through personal contact in the form of presentations for groups and individual meetings with specific relevant individuals. This calls for great efforts, but it is necessary for the ‘ecosystem’ to work properly. Below are some comments for the different types of collaborators:
- Accountants is usually those who spots the first signs of crisis and therefore they were an obvious choice for collaborations. However, we have just managed to get rather few referrals from accountants. They often feel, with good reason, that they have a co-responsibility, and they do not like other on the case. The small firms of accountants are also nervous for their constumer relation, whereas the bigger firms of accountants’ self-perception are that they can solve the problem in the best way themselves.
- The financial institutions often see the signs of crisis early. However, it has been very difficult to get the financial institutions to refer to EW. It does not happen in general, but only in situation where a financial adviser has gain trust in EW through concrete experiences with concrete persons. They are also nervous that they may be seen as (co)responsible for the development of the crisis, if they refer to EW. In the situations where bankruptcy or reconstruction looks like the only likely result, they will often see us as opponent, since we are focusing on the best solution for the company, whereas the bank focuses on the best solution for the bank.
- In Denmark, there are in most municipalities a local business council, whose task is to assist the companies in the best possible way. They have (in principle) no self-interest, and they are therefor far more obvious collaborators for EW. As a starting point, they will preferably want to help ‘their’ companies on their own, but they know that we are far better regarding companies in crisis that they are themselves.
- Unemployment benefit offices with a lot of independent member have referred a lot of small companies. The downside is that it is almost always at a time, where bankruptcy is inevitable.
- A few minor employers’ associations refer a good deal of companies, and writes on a regular basis about EW in their member newsletters.
With 5000+ companies serviced, referrals from other companies that have been in a progress with us, are a very important source.
4 The most important Danish experiences
If we, as a supposition, should start up all over again, the most important things would be the following:
- Make a communication plan and strategy. Remember from the very beginning to have a PA (Public Affairs) dimension. In 2 years, you will see the end of this project, if you have not ensured visibility that will secure funding for the future operations.
- Continuously press campaigns with a precise plan for message, media and target groups.
- WEB as a focus point, including SEO and Google AdWords.
- Use of social media, including LinkedIn and Facebook
- Use of videos. It is very cheap to use today and, with the above mentioned in mind, more dispersible.
- Activation of own people (consultants and volunteers) in Roadshows – Materials need to be developed and a proper training must be givin, so the individual feels equipped to tell about EW in the forums that they are a part of. Competent and experienced volunteers have a big network, where they enjoy acknowledgement. This rubs of onto EW both in relations to credibility towards the companies and in relations to attracting more competent volunteers.
5.Comments to reaching out to companies/ Canvas
In Denmark we have access to all accounting data for all companies (excepting personally owned firms), and therefore it is possible to select companies with rather acute crisis signs. However, this is something we have used to a very limited extent, and simply as starting point for a direct telephone call to the companies with either a phoner of a EW consultant. So far our conclusion is:
- This is a quite a cost-effective method to obtaining meetings with the target group (but it also contributes to a lot of meetings with companies, who are not in the target group)
- It is extremely important to be cautious in the beginning of the conversation.
- It is not a task that a phoner can deal with properly – there will be too many irrelevant meetings, and many might turn away the phoner because the phoner does not know enough.
At the same time, there is one big downside to the method: When the consultant meets with the company in crisis, the owner might be biased because of the phone call and asking “So what can you do for me?” – and that is not a good starting point for a process.