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Ayala Land’s defences in Glorietta and Serendra

(Article Published in the Sunstar Manila issue of Jul 03,2013)

       The official statements of Ayala Land after both the 2007 Glorietta 2 explosion in 2007 and the more recent Two Serendra explosion in Taguig illustrate how corporate communication has become a science. The announcements are professionally canned and carefully crafted; and, the jury is out on whether they were meant to con.

       Taking them as our model, it seems that the first item to be highlighted must be what the company is doing for the victims. The purpose of focusing on the victims, believe you me, is not to distract the readers/hearers from the main concern, namely, whether the company was at fault or not.

       By focusing on what it has done for the victims, the company projects itself as people-concerned. Never mind that, in reality, it may have been the ultimately the company’s desire to make handsome profit that caused the company to cut corners and endanger the lives of its stakeholders, particularly, their nameless customers.

       Thus, on the day of the Two Serendra explosion, Ayala Land, began by stating what had already been reported in radio and television. Then, it announced:

       “The building has been evacuated and the residents are being taken care of and provided with lodging while the incident is being investigated.”

       Likewise, Ayala Land’s statement the day after the Glorietta Two exclaimed: “We at Ayala land are deeply saddened by yesterday’s explosion that occurred at around 1:30 pm in Glorietta 2. We would like to extend our deepest condolences to the families affected by this tragedy. We stand in solidarity with those who were hurt during the explosion, and we would like to ensure (sic) the public that we are extending the utmost care and maximum medical treatment to the injured and the families of those killed.”

       “Ensure”, mind you, was a typographical error. It was not a Freudian slip on Ayala Land’s part, exposing that it was, that early in the game, intending to recover from Glorietta’s insurers.

       After trumpeting the company’s concern for the victims, carefully omitting, however, the limit of for the total assistance they had internally budgeted, the next thing Ayala Land immediately highlighted in its statements about both Glorietta and Serendra the stepping in by the Government and its agencies. This is a masterstroke. Legally, it is impeccable because it preys on the public belief, whether warranted or not, that their government is quick to respond and is always there for them.

       What precisely the Government’s quick response is, whether or not it is no more than the usual “bs” or the “we will get into the bottom of this” is not material. From the point of view of the private company’s communications, the implicit point is, to the public, that, if you are not happy with what is going on, don’t blame us, blame the government.

       But the presence of the government, because the government is to serve no more than a possible escape goat, deserves only passing mention. Corporate communications must right away return the focus on how great the company is.

       This is achieved by saying, right after the concession that the police investigators, and whoever else may be authorized to be on the site, that the company is being fully cooperative; not just “cooperative”, but “fully cooperative”. Forget that the company being owner of the premises is actually legally responsible for their safety; it must not be seen as taking the lead, or taking charge. Instead, it must always keep an eye at the exit. Someone else (i.e. the government authorities, or better still, the government agents on the site) is to blame, should the investigation report turn out to be unsatisfactory, or, as happens in many cases, it fails to turn up at all “because the experts and specialists are not yet through with their studies”.

       Accordingly, in Glorietta 2, Ayala Land professed to be “in close and constant communication with the authorities from the PNP and Makati City Hall. The PNP is in the lead in the investigation, we are extending to them our full support and cooperation as they ascertain the cause and nature of the explosion.”

       Similarly, for Two Serendra, Ayala Land proclaimed that, “The Taguig police and the Bureau of Fire Protection are on site to conduct the investigation. (Translation: “We, Ayala Land, are not taking charge, so don’t blame us if the final report, if and when it does come, disappoints.”) “We are” Ayala Land insists, “fully cooperating with the authorities as they try to determine the cause of the explosion.”

       Notice the use of the magic words, “fully cooperating” in both Glorietta 2 and Two Serendra. Those words wash off the dirt from one’s hand, a Pilate-like profession of “I am not to blame.”

       The third and most important feature of a company statement is absolute silence on the company’s guilt for proximate negligence or ultimate fraud that caused the disaster. And should some pesky media man press you, the reply ought to be lawyer-like , ie “we prefer to talk of that only at “the proper forum”. Meaning, in court, in many cases that will last till the end of time.

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