When Crises Come Knocking – Part 3: Moving Forward
By Tim Johnson
In my last post, I discussed the role of branding and effective communication in successfully addressing crises. Here, I’d like to lay out three strategies for addressing a PR crisis and minimizing its impact.
Recognize your organization has multiple constituents.
Marketers, the legal team and finance team will have different agendas in a crisis. Marketers should want to communicate proactively and frequently to demonstrate the organization takes the issue seriously and is addressing it as quickly as possible. The legal team may want to communicate as little as possible since any public comments can be used in litigation against the organization. The finance team may want to limit communication as the admission of an error by the organization could inhibit future funding among private companies and impact the stock price among public ones. Effective marketers will recognize the importance of finding common ground among these opinions and managing the creation of public-facing messages that take into account each set of sensitivities.
Own your organization’s mistakes, but stand up for its rights.
In some circumstances, when a crisis happens, it is largely or exclusively the fault of the organization. In these situations, it’s important to acknowledge the error and outline remedies to ensure the error won’t happen again. In other situations, the organization makes good faith attempts to prevent issues with its product (for example) and the end user fails to follow instructions. Early in my career, I handled communications for a company that produces construction equipment – pneumatic nailers for roofing and similar products. On the nailer itself, in the printed instructions and on the box was detailed information on how to use and how not to use the nailer. These instructions went far beyond the industry standard and what was required by law. Yet, every year, some number of people would sue the company because they failed to follow the instructions and ended up with a nail in their leg. Media would contact me and I would state these points very clearly. Company attorneys let me know on multiple occasions that some lawsuits were avoided because attorneys saw the company aggressively defended itself against spurious claims.
Whatever the organization promises to do, marketers need to ensure it happens.
As part of crisis response, many organizations make sweeping statements promising “dramatic reorganizations,” “changing the mindset of our business,” and more. Especially among large organizations, media will follow up several months after a crisis to evaluate whether and to what degree the organization has changed. Organizations trying to repair their reputations and put a crisis behind them must follow through on any commitments made to avoid another round of negative media coverage. In some ways, this second round of negative coverage is worst than the first because not only will articles repeat the issues that led to the original crisis, they will highlight that the organization did not make the internal changes necessary to prevent a repeat of the incident. There is an abundance of academic articles, books and related content on how to effectively communicate during an after a crisis.
Please let us know if you’d like us to steer you to these resources!