THE GOLD STANDARD AWARD FOR ISSUES MANAGEMENT AND CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS

Sponsored By: CS&A International

Winner: Maverick: “Working Under Fire, Strikes, Riots And Flash Floods, 2,000 Meters Up In A Remote Jungle

In January 2017, the Indonesian government revoked the export permit for the ore mined by a company in a remote highland jungle. Production was halted and efficiency measures had to be taken. A total of 2,297 workers were furloughed.

The company couldn’t be sure when the government would reinstate its permit and introduced a Voluntary Separation Programme for its furloughed workers. Those who did not want to live with the uncertainty could opt for the severance package and begin life anew elsewhere.

Persuading the workers to accept the package required a profound understanding of the diverse ethnicity, culture, education level and norms of 30,000 people who came from all round the country. As the company’s operations were managed by foreigners, they turned to Maverick to give their communications the nuance and subtlety required.

Maverick advised them on what actions were culturally acceptable and on how to make their often-complex messages sound and look simple, important and attractive through interactive infographics about the package. Result: 86 percent of the furloughed employees opted to accept the severance package.

In April, the export licence was reinstated and the company could begin production again. But things were about to get worse. At about that time police indicted the leader of the union for corruption. His supporters accused the company of pressuring the police to indict him.

More than 3,000 union members went on an unlawful strike to show their solidarity, just as the company was about to begin production again.

Maverick helped it persuade the workers to return through a multi-channel communications effort that included: posters put up all over the town, stating that many of them were still eligible to return to work; newspaper advertisements with messages in a simple format; items in local newspapers featuring local government officials and community leaders echoing the message.

Only a few workers reported back and the workforce was polarised. The strikers became more militant and began to threaten returning workers with violence. Maverick told the company’s side of the story through the media as the strikers tried to get public opinion on their side.

Through the company’s communications channels (email, social media, WhatsApp groups plus banners, posters and flyers at strategic locations) Maverick also promoted a security hotline where workers could anonymously report assaults or threats. The call centre received 43 reports that the company acted on. Incidents of assaults decreased dramatically.

Maverick’s other objective was to make the active workers stay loyal to the company. It engaged them through social media with a campaign to show their strength as one family. The campaign became a national trending topic on Twitter in May. As a result, morale was high in the company despite the troubles and the company reached its production targets, the highest it had set in seven years because of the catch-up needed after the export ban.

But on the night of August 15, there was a devastating landslide, the first of three events within five days that would test the resourcefulness and determination of the Maverick team still present at the site, backed up by a fuller team in Jakarta.

The landslide sent a wall of water and debris down the mountain, demolishing a power plant, ripping up streets and killing two workers.

Two days later, as the town rallied to restore basic services, shots rang out on the Main Supply Road (MSR) running to the job site, hitting the armoured light vehicle of police officers who were escorting a logistics convoy.

The road was closed for two days, and hours after it reopened there were fresh problems as a large crowd of former employees went on the rampage, setting fire to buildings at the company’s bus terminal, vehicles and equipment. Maverick was on standby round the clock to give updates to employees and the media.

Maverick continues to work at the site and has convinced the engineers who run it that effective communications make it easier for them to do their job. As a result, they now view communications as a strategic management function at the site.

Shortlist:

  • Man Wah Holdings Limited: MW vs MWR – Battle of Reputation (with SPRG)

  • Maverick: “Working Under Fire, Strikes, Riots And Flash Floods, 2,000 Meters Up In A Remote Jungle

  • State Bank of India: Assuaging the public on demonetisation woes (with Adfactors)

  • Thai Union Group PCL: Addressing investigations and criticisms in sustainability of seafood supply chains