Sometimes, things go wrong. It happens. Pencils have rubbers, cars have airbags and planes carry parachutes.
When there’s a crisis, the public is looking at your organisation for all the wrong reason. But the impact a crisis will have on your reputation isn’t necessarily in what has happened, it is in how you respond.
During crisis periods, it’s of paramount to manage the relationship your brand has with media. The media are the gatekeepers of information and opinion so brands need to act promptly and decisively.
Brands often hide behind the no comment strategy, even in the social media era. However, decades in corporate comms and media liaison have taught us that managing a crisis properly, not simply sitting back and hoping it blows over, is absolutely vital in influencing the news agenda and ensuring the bad air evaporates quickly.
With the vast majority of the public turning to social media, TV, radio and the web when news of a crisis breaks, having a specific and appropriate digital and broadcast response strategy is a must.
Here’s an example of what we’re talking about.
crisis comms in practice
A leading European manufacturer turned to us for help before they had to announce major staff layoffs immediately after Christmas. We had worked with them on a major business announcement that garnered positive high profile national and international broadcast coverage. This time, the company’s comms team looked to us for guidance on how to minimise negative coverage in the broadcast media once the announcement dropped.
We devised a broadcast strategy that included specific direction on timings and media targeting. Our team decided which resources should be made available to the public. Most importantly, the centrepiece of our strategy was that the company offer a human face to the media. In other words, spokespeople that could explain live to the cameras (thereby addressing staff and customers as directly as possible). They would explain why a difficult decision was being taken, and what measures were in place to safeguard jobs in the future.
We recommended the company’s European MD in London address the national and the industry interest in the story. On the other side, two senior local spokespeople would respond to local media on-site at the manufacturer’s HQ. They would both field questions from an array of media, including live broadcast media.
Once the strategy was agreed, we took all media spokespeople through refresher training on dealing with different forms of live and pre-recorded interviews. We role-played the questions and the accusations they could expect on the day. This honed the messaging. Moreover, later feedback confirmed that the refresher training course gave spokespeople some much-needed confidence before coming face-to-face with a hostile media and public.
On the day, we alerted several of our most trusted and key senior broadcaster contacts . We alerted them that a significant story was about to break and that they should prepare appropriate resource. Our relationship with these broadcasters meant that they mobilised without us having to divulge any details. In exchange for our media contacts preparing their schedules for an important story, we prioritised them for interviews.
This cemented the trust between us and the broadcasters from the outset.
We contacted broadcast outlets with the story and details of how the brand would respond, who would be available and when. We created a tight two-hour schedule of broadcast interviews and escorted the European MD as he toured the radio and TV studios of the main UK broadcasters to explain the decision.
The announcement did make national headlines. However, we controlled the messaging by working with key media – rather than against them or in isolation. Careful planning minimalised the negative impact of the story and the bad news moved off the media agenda rapidly.