How KPMG and McKinsey tanked their reputations in a year

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The past couple of years have seen the downfall and reputational damage of several well-known brands after crises were highlighted in the local and international media.

Do you remember the Dove racist ad? Spur's #RacistBully debacle is another one that springs to mind, though it extends beyond a company brand.

The issue also extends to personal brands that impact an organisation's reputation. Just look at Helen Zille and Fikile Mbalula, who were both quite vocal on Twitter and caused significant damage to their parties' (brand) reputations.

Two of the biggest falls over the past year must be KPMG and McKinsey, both linked to dealings with the infamous Gupta family and South Africa's state capture crisis.

It's how you handle the crisis

PR experts believe that, despite the size of a brand's crisis, you can still recover (to an extent) if you follow the correct steps. How you handle a crisis is the key. In both cases, KPMG and McKinsey failed… something social media capitalised on.

These two crises were highlighted in traditional media, but social media made the biggest impact and created huge reputational damage. Social media shows you what the people think, not what is politically correct or what is even fact.

Judge, jury and executioner live on social media.

This reputational damage on social media can be carried over to the consumer's buying patterns and even cross into the corporate world, where by this example, several companies have severed ties with KPMG and McKinsey due to the level of exposure on the crises.

What actually happened?

Acumen Media has studied social media over the past year and the findings are fascinating.

KPMG (in pink) has yielded far more publicity than McKinsey (in purple), but the amount of negative publicity is the almost the same across both brands.

McKinsey had less press, but it was significantly more negative.

KPMG had tons of coverage and suffered at the hand of negative press and conversation, but in bigger volume.

This is a sign that South Africans (and even the world) don't believe that the companies were honest and acted in the best interest of South Africa, or even in the interest of their own organisations.

The fact that a company like McKinsey paid back money is a step in the right direction, but both their reaction times were dramatically slow, and neither were transparent when it really mattered. This aggravated the problem.

Net Sentiment is a fascinating metric. It measures where a brand's reputation stands over a period of time. A neutral space is considered 0; anything negative or positive moves from -100 to +100. Over a year, in Africa KPMG's net sentiment is -41%, McKinsey sits at -38%.

Silence isn't golden

Our media consumption has become dominated by hashtags like #FeesMustFall and #ZumaMustFall.

Hashtags signify our collective social thoughts. They show association or non-association with a specific company, person or brand.

The associated hashtags with KPMG are #GuptaLeaks, #whitecorruption, #KPMGBloodBath, #Trillian, #TomMoyane, #KPMGMustFall, #SARSRogueUnit, #Corruption and #StateCapture.

The McKinsey analysis yielded same results, with #EskomInquiry, #GuptaLeaks, #StateCapture, #Guptas, #Trillian, #Prasa and even #Steinhoff making a presence.

The media – especially social media – is a powerful tool which can amplify or destroy a brand in seconds. An inability or unwillingness to timeously defuse negative comments and perceptions, like in the case of KPMG and McKinsey, can harm the brand irrevocably and even lead to its eventual demise.

Rumours are already rife about significant downsizing of both companies and the question beckons: what would have happened if they handled these crises better and steered it in a different direction?

- Tonya Khoury is one of the founders of Acumen Media, a group of professionals from across the globe who offer solutions for media inefficiencies. Studies are done in real time and are available for review. Views expressed are her own.

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