Crisis Management: The Importance of Preparation

If you think reputation management is something only large companies need to worry about, think again. Companies of all sizes can quickly find themselves in crisis mode if their brand becomes tainted due to an unforeseen event or negative press.

In fact, digital media has made brand management and crisis management more important than ever. Word spreads faster and wider thanks to the ease of mass communication through online channels, and consumers are quick to form opinions when they hear stories shared by their ever-larger circle of social media contacts.

The good news is that today’s consumers share positive experiences just as readily as they share negative brand interactions. One recent study found that 52% of consumers reported sharing a negative service experience or other interaction with a company in the past year, while 56% reported sharing positive experiences.

With swift action, you can turn a brand crisis into an opportunity for growth and realignment by laying the groundwork ahead of time. Follow these tips before, during and after your crisis to keep your brand going strong no matter what obstacles you encounter.

Before the Crisis: An Ounce of Preparation… 

Not to be a downer, but your business — every business — is exposed to potential crises on numerous fronts. One disgruntled employee with a complaint that goes viral can have the mob grabbing their pitchforks before any of the facts are in. Same goes for an unhappy customer. Manufacturing errors that lead to safety issues/recalls, accounting discrepancies that prompt legal proceedings, accusations of intellectual property theft, and other problems can all quickly cast a company into a downward spiral.

The point is, any business can experience a major crisis, which is why every business needs to have a crisis management plan ready to go. Your response should be proactive, not simply reactive.

  1. Anticipate potential issues
  2. Assign responsibilities
  3. Clearly communicate your expectations to all staff
  4. Identify appropriate spokespersons for each type of potential issue

Once you designate company spokespersons, get them media training and hold run-throughs to keep them prepared and comfortable. Also, be sure to draft prepared statements and social media posts. Keep them updated and in a separate, nonpublic document, not in an email program or on your social media platforms where an accidental click could cause the message to send and trigger a crisis all on its own.

You should also establish relationships with reporters and media outlets — those local to your area and those focused on your industry. Sharing good news, offering expert insights, and making yourself available for interviews and comments on non-crisis issues is great marketing. And, if a crisis hits you’ll have contacts who are happy to hear about and tell your side of things. Similarly, having an ongoing reputation monitoring/management service in place gives you everyday insights into how your brand is performing and how you might adjust, while also providing instant information in a crisis. Ongoing sentiment listening and proactive response will make your brand stronger to begin with and more resilient when things take a temporary turn for the worse.

During the Crisis: Act Fast, Be Honest, Stay Positive 

All of your “before” work will pay off big time when a crisis hits, but you’ll still have some work to do. You need a timely response, otherwise the story will quickly take on a life of its own and you might lose control. However, the accuracy and quality of your message is just as important.

  1. Directly address the issue at hand
  2. Don’t dismiss or belittle outside concerns–be empathetic
  3. Keep it authentic
  4. Be as transparent as possible
  5. Phrase your responses using positive words

Don’t give them a negative quote to turn into an easy soundbite or headline. Most consumers have “negativity bias.” They are more likely to remember and repeat negative words and statements. Journalists know this and use it.

The key during the crisis is regaining control over your brand. A fast, honest and positive response, along with swift action to solve the underlying problem(s), will put you back at the wheel. If you need help, find a PR team with experience in crisis management. They’ll be able to craft and spread your message and be invisible while doing it.

After the Crisis: Regroup, Review, Reset 

Your work doesn’t end just because the crisis is over. You’ll want a crisis debriefing soon after the crisis is closed. Take time to discuss what went wrong, how the response fared and where improvements could have been made. Gather ideas, don’t just instruct, and get input on how to adapt your crisis management strategy the next time around.

Last, after any bad press has died down, tastefully push some positive stories about your brand out into the world. People have short memories, and a well-managed crisis will quickly fade out of the public eye when there are uplifting tidbits to replace it. Keep your eye on the identity and values you want to be associated with your brand, and let that image stream out through your social media and other channels.

The next time a crisis comes around, you’ll be that much more ready to weather the storm.