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How voluntary self-disclosure enhances credibility

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The recent escape of Nadeem Anjarwalla, one of the two Binance executives detained by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), has sparked widespread public outrage, with many viewing it as a national embarrassment. This incident adds to a series of previous crises that have tarnished Nigeria’s reputation on the international stage.

For instance, in 2017, when the then President Muhammadu Buhari returned from medical treatment abroad and resumed work from his residential quarters rather than the official presidential office, his spokesman, Garba Shehu’s statement about the office being infested with rats became a subject of ridicule, reflecting poorly on the nation’s governance.

Similarly, in 2014, a money laundering scandal involving a jet linked to the Nigerian government carrying nearly $10 million in cash into South Africa further damaged the country’s reputation. The delayed response from the Nigerian government exacerbated the reputational damage of the country during that scandal.

These crises highlight the consequences of a lack of openness and proactive crisis management. In today’s digital age, characterized by an active and information-savvy audience, organisations must adopt a strategy of ‘Leading through Crisis’ rather than merely managing it. In situations where culpability lies with the organisation, employing the ‘Stealing the Thunder’ strategy becomes crucial. Instead of attempting to conceal or downplay the crisis, organisations should take proactive measures to address it head-on, thereby regaining control of the narrative and minimizing reputational damage.

Stealing the thunder

‘Stealing the thunder’ is a strategic communication tactic that involves preemptively disclosing negative information or weaknesses before they can be revealed by external parties, thereby taking control of the narrative.

The concept of ‘stealing the thunder’ originated in the field of law, where it refers to a lawyer’s tactic of highlighting flaws in their own case before opponents have the chance to exploit them. By acknowledging weaknesses upfront, the lawyer aims to minimize their impact and seize control of the courtroom narrative.

In crisis communication, ‘stealing the thunder’ especially as it regards voluntary self-disclosure involves a similar proactive approach. Organisations facing potential crises or negative publicity may choose to voluntarily disclose information about the situation, admitting fault or addressing concerns before they escalate. This allows the organisation to control the narrative, demonstrate accountability, and potentially mitigate the impact of the crisis on their reputation.

In the broader context of crisis management and reputation management, the concept of ‘stealing the thunder’ suggests a proactive approach to addressing issues and crises. By acknowledging and taking ownership of shortcomings or mistakes before they can be exploited by external parties, organizations can control the narrative and mitigate reputational damage.

For instance, in the case of the Binance executive ‘Escape Crisis’, a voluntary disclosure of the escape of Nadeem Anjarwalla before any rumour about it got out and stating and the steps ONSA has taken or is taking to address the situation. By leading the narrative and addressing vulnerabilities head-on, organisations can effectively ‘steal the thunder’ from critics and regain control of their reputation and credibility.

Application of the strategy

The ‘Golden Fleece’ of crisis management is nothing but Believability. Have it and you are empowered, lose it and you are doomed. One of the most powerful tools for achieving believability status is an effective use of the ‘Stealing the thunder’ strategy which involves taking ownership of the crisis, shaping the narrative, engaging with stakeholders transparently.

  1. Taking ownership of the crisis

Taking ownership of a crisis goes beyond merely acknowledging its existence; it entails assuming responsibility for the situation in a manner that meets stakeholders’ expectations and addresses their concerns. This involves a concept known as the “humanisation of the organization,” which emphasises the importance of portraying the organisation as compassionate, empathetic, and accountable to those affected by the crisis.

  1. Shaping the narrative

Shaping the narrative involves strategic communication efforts directed towards framing the crisis in alignment with the organisation’s values and goals. This entails crafting powerful and impactful messages (both verbal and non-verbal) that are so lazer sharp that they piece through the noise, misconception, misinterpretation and even negative preconception (that usually leads ‘Schadenfreude’) in the crisis arena to garner understanding and sympathy for the organisation. Effective use of message engineering helps to humanise the organisation and also demonstrates the organization’s proactive stance towards resolving the crisis. There is no doubt that ‘message engineering’ plays a pivotal role in navigating crisis but it becomes inevitable when an organization is trying to move from culpability to credibility.

  • Engaging with stakeholders transparently

“Engaging with stakeholders transparently is paramount, with the aim of co-creating solutions rooted in shared values. Effective stakeholder engagement transcends mere reaction during crises; it constitutes a currency in your crisis bank account, earned over time through investment in trust and goodwill. This accumulated capital can then be strategically utilized in times of crisis to diminish negative impacts and rally support”. The Relationship Resonance Engine matrix serves as a valuable tool for assessing the strength of your TAG currency.

Conclusion

In conclusion, ‘Stealing the thunder’ emerges as a formidable weapon wielded by organisations in the pursuit of authenticity and trustworthiness. It is the bold proclamation of vulnerability, the courageous unveiling of imperfections, that sets the stage for genuine connection with stakeholders.

In this epoch of relentless scrutiny and unfettered access to information, transparency becomes the cornerstone upon which reputations are built and alliances are forged. By embracing transparency as both a moral obligation and a strategic imperative, organisations ignite the flames of hope and confidence in their stakeholders, fostering a culture of trust that withstands the fiercest of storms.

‘Stealing the thunder’ is not merely a tactic; it is a manifesto—a declaration of unwavering commitment to truth, accountability, and ethical leadership. Through the courageous act of voluntary self-disclosure, organizations reveal their true selves, laying bare their humanity and earning the unwavering loyalty of those they serve.

In this interconnected and information-driven world, embracing transparency is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic advantage for organizations poised to thrive in the long term. For in the arena of public trust, it is those who dare to steal the thunder of secrecy and deception that emerge as the true champions of credibility and resilience.

References

Jones, R., & Simmons, T. (2018). The Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility Disclosures on Consumer Trust. Journal of Business Ethics, 150(4), 1101-1116

Smith, A., Johnson, M., & Wang, D. (2019). The Impact of Voluntary Disclosure on Firm Reputation and Investor Decision-making. Journal of Financial Economics, 133(2), 367-390

Ayodele is a distinguished and multiple award-winning strategic communication expert who specialises in ‘Message Engineering’. He helps organisations, brands and leaders communicate in a way that yields the desired outcome. He is the author of the seminal work, PR Case Studies; Mastering the Trade, and Dean of the School of Impactful Communication (TSIC). He can be reached via ishopr2015@gmail.com or +234 807 793 2282

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