Few things can damage a brand so like a crisis that comes out of nowhere. From revelations that businesses aren’t paying tax, to realising that a new project is disrupting local people in some way, there are a myriad of ways that crises, from mega to minor, can truly damage a brand.
Figuring out how to handle a crisis can be a daunting prospect for any business, especially for SMEs or entrepreneurs who may not have a large PR team. There might be years of peace and prosperity before a crisis hits, but it’s still good to be prepared to minimise any fallout.
There are some key ways organisations can get it very wrong. Anne Cantelo, the managing director at Onyx Comms, outlines the top ways businesses fail to properly safeguard their brand during a crisis:
- They try to pretend nothing has happened. But if you say nothing then you leave the platform open to critics.
- They repeatedly deny everything and then pass the blame onto somebody else.
- They lie. A key to successfully handling the crisis is to rebuild trust, and that won’t be easy if you’ve been found out to be lying. It’s especially easy to spot untruths via social media.
- They fail to apologise, because lawyers or insurance companies forbid them. For example, during the Malaysian Airlines crises, they took steps to help their customers, even offering to refund non-refundable tickets. They didn’t have to do this. No-one has said that they were to blame for the crashes that happened but they knew they had a responsibility.
And social media has only exacerbated the potential for a crisis.
Sara Collinge, UK managing director at Clarity PR, advises: “Crises come in all shapes and sizes, but the proliferation of the internet has created several new potential threats that can trigger a crisis. Perhaps the worst of these is data breaches and cyber attacks, causing loss of customer’s private information. It’s these kinds of scenarios that can undermine customer confidence and trust if not handled with skill.”
She underlines that planning is everything, and says knee-jerk reactions are almost always going to end badly. This starts with identifying all potential risks and planning responses and training spokespeople according to each scenario. This will ensure you have a playbook that can be drawn on as soon as a crisis hits. It’s important to remember that the answer is not to bury your head in the sand and hope the crisis will blow over. It’s better to proactively manage a crisis by giving out information to the people affected as soon as possible and making sure it’s consistent, clear and available on as many channels as possible, and if you’ve done something wrong, accept responsibility and apologise to your customers.”
Jason MacKenzie, president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations also agrees that planning is everything. “It’s important to create checklists of actions and use stakeholder mapping to prioritise communication with key people.”
He adds that social media has unquestionably made organisations more vulnerable. “It’s easier than ever for people to draw attention to brand failures. Social media has rapidly accelerated the pace at which a crisis can develop, but it can also be an invaluable response tool. Speed and credibility are imperative in crisis situations - and social media channels offer brands the opportunity to establish authority by connecting and communicating directly with their audiences.”
Nik Pollinger, a director at Wide PR, explains that the best way to protect against a crisis is by building a solid reputation. Also, if you’re a small business, get experienced crisis communications professionals to review areas of concern then plan for the worst and review the plans regularly.
He explains that it’s rare for a business to keep a permanent crisis communications team to be on standby, but, “if disaster strikes, be open and apologise quickly to put yourself on the road to recovery.”