It is during the darkest of times that stories are needed most. They help to light the way and turn enemies into allies. For many brands, time is darkest during a crisis.
What is a Crisis?
A crisis occurs unexpectedly and throws an organization under intense negative scrutiny. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 turned global oil giant British Petroleum into a pariah overnight. Vietnam’s recall of C2 bottled tea due to excessive lead content called into question its dedication to health standards. Accusations of ‘sudden unintended acceleration’ of the Mitsubishi Montero Sport threatened to force a recall of the SUV and place a sanction on the Japanese motor company. These unforeseen events hurt the brand’s standing among its peers and consumers.
In every crisis, there are two groups of people: those who are part of the crisis and those who watch as events unfold. Those who are part will be judged by those who watch – often harshly. In the watchers minds, negative stories build up that convince them to condemn the brand in crisis.
Avoiding that condemnation is the goal of crisis management. In a nutshell, crisis management is the myriad ways that a brand can do to be judged less harshly during disasters. It is carrying out positive actions and spinning favorable stories to demonstrate that a brand can be better.
Issue vs Crisis
Crisis management is often confused with issues management. While related, the two are very different fields due to differences in the following five traits:
Issue management is designed to enable a brand to explore all possible choices, weigh the benefits of each option, and leisurely make an informed decision. Typically, the more you explore the issue the more possible choices open up. On the other hand, choices become fewer in a crisis rather than more as the situation develops. While issues management can debate on the merits of a media release versus a press conference versus a one-on-one interview and the options of newspaper versus radio versus television versus social media, crisis management has its hands full fending a television news crew and the media pack outside the door.
When facing an issue, it’s possible to research all the facts, analyze the views of key stakeholders, and obtain independent expert opinion to ensure nothing has been overlooked. Unfortunately, in a crisis, decisions must be made without knowing all the facts, when it is still unclear exactly what happened and why, let alone who was responsible and what it will cost.
Choice and certainty disappear in crisis management because of the lack of time. In issue management, there is time to fully assess and make the best decision. In a crisis, brands need to decide right now. In fact, the decision should have been made 30 minutes ago
Potential cost is an important consideration when encountering an issue. Executives can carefully calculate whether it’s cheaper to simply cease manufacturing a troublesome product than to publicly defend the product or to implement restrictive new regulatory requirements. By contrast, cost is usually not an immediate consideration when facing a crisis. If heavy equipment is needed to rescue men from a mine collapse, no-one can say “but there’s no provision for that in this year’s budget.”
The difference between an issue and a crisis becomes most stark when considering outcomes. The purpose of issue management is to identify potential problems early and develop plans that work towards positive outcomes. On the other hand, a crisis typically endangers the entire organization, and the primary objective is to minimize damage and help the organization survive. In other words, crisis management isn’t about planning to avoid danger at sea. It’s about scrambling desperately to save the ship after it has struck an iceberg.
7 Rules of Crisis Communication
When a crisis occurs, management might panic initially. But if the organization can remember these seven rules of crisis communication, it drastically raises its chances of survival
Face the Music
Don’t hide from the media and the watching public. Just be prepared, accurate, timely, and consistent.
Don’t waste a minute procrastinating. Identify assets, liabilities, and formulate a strategy. Be consistent with the story.
Despite media portrayals, individuals, brands, and organizations in a crisis are not alone. Call on employees, credible experts, and even celebrities to show their support.
A crisis isn’t over once the media turns to a new target. It has damaged the brand and actions must be made to regain what was lost, whether its employee morale or customer trust.
If Necessary, Apologize
Everybody makes mistakes. A person who continues to argue that he’s right while being objectively wrong is showered with contempt. But a sincere apology paves the way for forgiveness. Also, remember that sincerity is shown through actions. Explain the facts, share the plan, and act on it.
People show no mercy to objects. In order to care, they humanize various aspects. Don’t remain a faceless brand. Bring out the CEOs and leaders to share the organization’s remorse, sincerity, and change of heart, because only they can erase all doubts in the public about the group’s intent.
Listen, Listen, Listen
Because of social media, modern communications is increasingly a two-way street. Don't just listen to the media, the media is a filter. Listen directly to the employees, the community, and the customers, and respond to them.
During times of crisis, the situation appears bleak. But tell the right story and follow it up with the right actions, and eventually, people that judged the brand harshly will change their mind.
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