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Managing brand and PR: We don’t make friends in a crisis

The term 'unprecedented crisis' has quickly escalated to a dominant phrase of 2020, one that requires businesses and brands to adopt urgency and depth for careful planning to both prevent and deal with a potential crisis.    

Whilst having a business contingency plans in place might seem like a no-brainer, new research reveals that less than half of board directors have a thorough crisis playbook.1 Further, only 56% of companies that do are only ‘somewhat confident’ in their crisis management plans and execution.2

Planning ahead for any crisis, however different they may be is one of the foundations of successful crisis management. Understanding the four key phases of a crisis is important:

  1. Crisis alert – when the business is made aware of an impending crisis
  2. Acute crisis – when the wider public and media become aware of the issue at hand
  3. Crisis action – the time within the crisis period
  4. Post-crisis rebuild – rebuilding reputation, one step at a time
     

1. Establishing a crisis management plan

The components and stakeholders will be different for each business in a crisis and there is no way to prepare for every foreseeable issue, but the fundamental elements will remain the same. Ensuring you have an effective 'crisis management plan' is one that encompasses your brand protection, reputation management and risk management. Undertake a self-examination risk analysis on your business to identify potential threats, the more holistic your plan is, the more prepared you can be for any issue that may arise. Appointing a response team who will be responsible for managing the crisis is also essential to ensure committees and management structures are not over-burdened during a time of stress.

2. Assess your PR capability

In today’s increasingly interconnected world, there is a greater chance that battling a crisis will include the need for an integrated communications plan, meaning both offline and online with traditional and social media. It is critical that brands have a PR strategy which will offset any reputational harm as well as to inform stakeholders of the crisis in a quick and effective way.

Establishing an outside counsel team who specialise in crisis response and have experience in dealing with situations that your in-house team may not anticipate is an efficient way for your business to improve its crisis management contingency.

3. Media preparedness for spokespeople

Key to success is not only the timeliness of actions taken but the key spokespeople who will be delivering commentary on behalf of the brand. Clear key messaging should be ready to be delivered, updated on a regular basis with relevance and buy in from the full leadership team. 

Crisis management media coaching in preparedness for such an event is recommended for all businesses, no matter how big or small, if there is any potential for a crisis to occur. This is to ensure that if a crisis arises, the key spokespeople are already comfortable delivering messaging in high pressure situations.

A good media coaching program should include the following:

  • Media handling skills familiarisation for nominated leaders in the business
  • Overview of how to handle media interviews: do’s and don’ts, key techniques to manage tough questions, how to get your message across
  • Practice runs with key messaging, in preparation for various interview scenarios, be it broadcast by telephone or written statements
  • Role play interviews which are filmed, played back and reviewed to help improve message deliver
     

4. Communicate with empathy

Communicating authentically as a united business allows control over the narrative of the crisis. Where possible, having the CEO address the situation with empathy and transparency can quell anxieties and questions of both stakeholders and the internal team as well. As part of the planning process, businesses should have a clear expectation of what questions it expects executives to answer, what steps executives will take, and what lines of communication will have to be clear in a time of uncertainty.

By being up front and honest as soon as possible, and keeping a consistent and empathetic response shows that your business is owning the crisis in the best way it can.

5. Maintaining and monitoring your social media reputation

As social media is becoming more integrated into our daily lives, with the average person now spending three hours daily on social media and messaging, businesses have the opportunity to reach their audience and deliver messages faster and more effectively.3

This means that a single statement made on social media about your brand has the power to reach thousands at an incredible speed. Implementing software that monitors your brand mentions is an effective way of assessing a potential social media crisis as well as determining when to respond.

On the flip side, a brand needs to carefully monitor media to keep track of consumer sentiment. One should act carefully and cleverly with a clear plan on how to attend to negative sentiment. A variety of strategies are on the table at this time, depending on the nature of the issues and the comments.

6. What not to do

Having an effective communications strategy means outlining what not to do, just as much as what to do. There are many examples where businesses have created a bigger PR crisis in just the way they respond, or don’t respond at all.

When implementing a media response strategy, avoid responding too quickly, or too slowly, offering no comment or responding emotionally. Remember that people will forgive and forget your mistakes, but they won’t forget how you conducted yourself in the process.

Most important to remember is that even if a business is in the midst of a crisis, we need to ensure we are thinking medium to long term to ensure that each step of the way we are making sound decisions that ultimately are going to limit reputational damage and help rebuild carefully and  quickly, each step of the way.

For advice on how to manage your business reputation through a crisis, please visit The 6AM Agency or email CEO, Gillian Fish.

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