Unexpected, uncontrollable, with the brute strength to leave a path of mass destruction. No, we’re not talking about hurricane season. Heck, we’re not even talking about individual hurricanes.
The storm that catches most brands off guard is a public relations crisis.
But if handled correctly, your brand can weather the storm with ease.
When lightning strikes, all eyes are on you for what comes next. Here are some ways brands managed a crisis and lived to tell the tale.
It’s not a matter of if a crisis happens—it’s a matter of when. So in the event of a pending public relations nightmare, it’s essential to prepare a crisis relief strategy that protects your company’s brand and reputation while preserving its integrity and longevity for the future.
Defining the level of crisis you’re dealing with will determine the severity of what you’re up against. Did someone get into a fender bender while driving a company vehicle or were there fatalities involved? Regardless of the event’s scale, getting control of the situation is critical.
You have to understand what caused the crisis before you can manage it. That starts with gathering all the information, getting everyone on the same page and discussing the entire event in full—even if it’s uncomfortable.
From there, you’ll discuss how to communicate the crisis to your internal audience (employees, volunteers, stakeholders, board members) and the external audience (the public).
What’s just as critical as a crisis? A company’s response to it. Disseminating information, being transparent and keeping your audiences informed in a timely fashion helps you get closer to the resolution and recovery phase.
A perfect example of this involved PricewaterhouseCoopers and the 2017 Oscars. PwC, which has been responsible for counting the ballots for more than 83 years, mistakenly handed the presenters the wrong Best Film envelope.
You remember what happened next, in front of Hollywood’s elite and millions of viewers across the world.
The wrong became right within seconds of the false announcement. PwC released a short and concise statement acknowledging the incident. The firm apologized to the two movie studios and the presenters, explaining what went wrong and promising to investigate how it happened. After the apology, PwC thanked all of the nominees, the Academy, ABC and the host for gracefully handling the situation.
Being as open and honest as possible with your audience is vital to handling a crisis.
What started in the Twitter-verse quickly went viral when Roseanne Barr, a sitcom star from the ‘80s, blamed a racist tweet on the side-effects of her prescription use of Ambien. The pharmaceutical company that produces Ambien, Sanofi, was left to deal with the unexpected repercussions.
About 24 hours later, Sanofi tweeted its response.
It was inclusive, stating that it values diversity and how the company’s employees work to improve the lives of others. And while it acknowledged that their pharmaceuticals do cause side effects, it firmly denied any side effects for racial tweets.
Have you ever known a fast-food restaurant to run out of food? Me neither, but KFC experienced a chicken shortage due to operational delivery issues, forcing hundreds of locations to shut down briefly. The deficit created squawking among KFC lovers, causing the angry flock to fly over to social media and share their distress. (You’re probably wondering how many more bird puns are coming. I promise I’m done.)
People pled for the authorities to get involved while competing food chains offered up fried chicken strips. After a few days, an apology was in order.
The chicken chain crafted a full-page print apology that rearranged KFC to “FCK” and in smaller type below it said “We’re sorry.” The ad spoke for itself, using playful humor to acknowledge the company fudged up.
Now, let’s say the chicken crisis began from salmonella contamination, causing thousands of people to fall ill. KFC would have had a completely different crisis on its hands, one in need of a severe crisis management plan. Humor, for instance, would have been wildly inappropriate.
Crisis management can yield learning opportunities that benefit a company and prevent future disasters. Last year, Starbucks assigned mandatory bias training after an incident involving the arrests of two men, both black, at one of its coffee shops in Philadelphia. Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson refused to purchase anything or leave the store, based on the statement from the store’s manager. Both men were led away in handcuffs by six policemen and were released from jail several hours later without charges.
This arrest raised eyebrows and questions about the café’s prejudice against nonpaying patrons or lingering visitors. Starbucks responded by saying it would close its doors for one afternoon to conduct mandatory company-wide training for 175,000 of its employees.
The training focused on reducing bias between its employees and customers. Starbucks was estimated to lose about $12 million in profit.
The session consisted of pre-recorded messages from CEO Kevin Johnson, Chairman & Founder Howard Schultz and rapper Common. Starbucks also introduced a new official policy that welcomed all guests, whether they’re paying customers or not.
As for Nelson and Robinson? Starbucks offered an additional learning opportunity for the men to complete their undergraduate degrees through the Starbucks Achievement Plan at Arizona State University.
In crisis management, it’s your job to improve the lives of those around you. While not every company conducts mandatory training for each crisis, each crisis offers learning opportunities. Whether it’s a chicken shortage or an Ambien-fueled racial outburst, there’s always an opportunity for internal reflection. Evaluate how well the management strategy was executed, what fell through the cracks, and what improvements can be made to the plan and process the next time a crisis hits.
Nadine is known for her expertise in PR, her down-to-earth nature and the ability to scare interns. Okay, not all interns - just one former intern who may or may not have written this section of the blog.