In the “olden days” clients had the luxury of time to set up the war room; gather their decision makers, pull in the consultants, strategize next steps and craft key messages. Then once that was done, only then, did the communications process begin. But in a day and age of lightning speed communications where anyone with an iPhone is a journalist, brands have been forced to address issues in real time and in an authentic and transparent way. Here are a few “crisis 101” tips that will serve you well when bad things happen.
- Honesty is the best policy – Rule #1 – tell the truth! Honesty, transparency and authenticity are key in dealing with issues related to crisis and issues and reputation management. Fess up to any wrongdoing and then make sure you communicate what you and/or your organization is doing to correct the problem to assure it will never happen again. The classic case study is the Tylenol scare of the 80’s when multiple people died as a result of product tampering. The CEO of Tylenol ordered all product off the shelf and full compensation to consumers who had already purchased product. The crisis changed the face of packaging across many industries and Tylenol was praised for its swift and thorough handling of the crisis.
- An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure – Don’t wait for the &^%* to hit the fan. Proactively develop policies and procedures to manage crisis when and if it happens. Be prepared to communicate to your stakeholders (internal and external) in a timely and consistent way. Every crisis is different and you may have to adapt your plan accordingly – but at least you have a plan and a springboard for positive action and result.
- Take Ownership and Get in Front of It– It’s your crisis – own it! Don’t stall, talk in circles or make false promises – your audiences will see right through the rhetoric. If you made a mistake, admit it and take immediate action to repair the damage. A perfect example is the recent Starbucks response to the two young African American men arrested in one of their locations. The company closed all outlets for a day to provide racial sensitivity training to staff. It was a short-term loss in revenue but an investment that will benefit them in the long run.
- Don’t be Defensive – Criticism is not easy to take even when it’s constructive. It’s important to listen to your audiences and what they have to say regardless of how negative. In a world where
perception is reality, keeping an open mind to feedback will help to mitigate the situation and will put your brand in a more favourable light.
- Who Are Your Audiences – Know your stakeholders – more importantly, understand them. How is this “crisis” affecting them and what is your company or brand doing to address their specific
needs and concerns. Communicate directly and often!
- Address issues in real time – News cycles change quickly and so issues must be addressed with speed and accuracy. Own it, address it, fix it and move on! Your brand will be the stronger for it.