A reputational crisis is every brand’s worst nightmare. Whether it is the result of a poorly timed comment, a poorly worded ad, or poorly planned decision that plays out for the world to see, any attack on your brand’s reputation can destroy in a matter of days what it has taken you years to build. If not addressed with wisdom, poise, and professionalism, a crisis can mean the end of a business.
The communication that a brand offers to the public when it is facing a crisis will determine whether it survives with reputation intact or suffers damage from what could be unfair and untrue attacks on its character. While understanding the importance of crisis communication is not difficult, devising the proper strategy for crisis communication can be one of the most challenging tasks that an organization will ever face.
Here are some tips that can help organizations that are caught in the crosshairs of a crisis.
When faced with a challenging situation, the natural response is to do what is easiest. When it comes to facing a crisis, that means acting like nothing is wrong, continuing to drive the business forward, and, if pressed, denying the allegations that are causing the crisis. In other words, lie low until it blows over. While that is the easiest response, it will prove to be the most costly to a brand’s reputation.
If your business is facing a crisis, it is because something has surfaced related to your company that is being seen by large numbers of people and is casting it in a bad light. While the event that is sparking the crisis might be shocking or surprising to you, the truth of it is something that should not be denied. Starting with honesty will give you a firm foundation upon which you can build a sound crisis response. Lying will create a new crisis.
Bonus Tip – To ensure that the early response to a crisis does not do more harm than good, organizations should immediately activate their crisis communication plan. This plan should be a part of an overall crisis management plan and allow for communication to be handled by a crisis communications team. When communication can be limited to a designated spokesperson who is familiar with the crisis plan, organizations have a much better chance of limiting reputational damage.
Once you have admitted that the situation driving the crisis is a reality, the next step is to take full responsibility. It will be tempting to play the blame game and find something other than the company, even something like ignorance or naivety, to which responsibility can be pinned. Resist that temptation.
It is important to remember that crisis communication not only communicates your position on the crisis issue, but also your brand character. Do not allow fear or panic to drive decisions that will further defame your brand. When a communications team implements a crisis communication plan, the impact of a crisis can be mitigated. When responsibility is denied, again, you create a new crisis.
Once you have taken responsibility, take action. Launching an investigation, issuing new protocols, or dismissing the program or employees responsible for triggering the crisis will communicate with more than words that your brand is taking responsibility and working to avoid similar issues in the future. And make sure that the crisis communications team is aware of any action that has been initiated in response to the crisis. That is the type of information that they will want to include in their communications.
One of the primary goals of crisis communication is keeping a crisis from escalating. When your brand is attacked, taking a defensive stance by denying responsibility or deflecting blame will most often simply add fuel to the fire.
In the age of digital communications, social media is the channel of choice for anyone seeking to criticize or defame your brand. Social posts can launch weighty accusations with no support that spread like wildfire. While it is important to address such attacks, responding in the correct way is essential. And responding defensively is not the correct way. It carries the risk of escalating the attack and drawing more attention to the crisis.
When you are attacked, as is often the case in a reputational crisis situation, it is easy to feel alone.
“You need to know that facing a crisis is not something you need to do alone,” says Jay Feldman, cofounder of Otter PR. “There is a whole profession within the world of PR that can provide you with a team to help to deal with the crisis situation and get through it.”
Whether you need help in building a crisis team, creating a crisis plan, or avoiding the mistakes that are common to crisis management, public relations professionals like those at Otter can make sure that your brand can face any crisis with the tools and the strategy necessary to save your reputation and, in many cases, add value to it.