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It is that time of year again when we all set our resolutions and targets for the 12 months ahead.
For many of us, some of our New Year’s resolutions will already be in tatters, even at this early stage.
2018 saw some huge brands face crisis media management incidents. Facebook, Marriott Hotels, Pret A Manger and Starbucks are a few of the organisations which found themselves in the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
And we can be pretty sure that brands will continue to find themselves in the spotlight in the coming months when things go wrong or they make gaffes.
With that in mind we have set out 6 crisis media management resolutions for 2019:
Identify your vulnerabilities
Did any of the brands we mentioned earlier predict the crises they would face in 2018?
We are unlikely to ever know the answer to that.
As a crisis can come in many different forms, it is unlikely that a brand would be able to predict the exact scenario it will face.
But the good news is that it can narrow down the possibilities.
A risk register is a great way for an organisation to identify its vulnerabilities and risks which could expose it to public attention, media scrutiny and potentially damage – or even destroy - its reputation.
If an organisation has a risk manager in place there should already be a risk register and it is important to ensure the comms team is involved in that.
If your organisation doesn’t currently have a risk register there is a free template included in our crisis communications eBook.
The importance of acting quickly during a crisis may not be new information, but we continue to see organisations who ignore this golden rule of crisis media management.
Just before Christmas, for example, Britannia Hotels found itself in the media spotlight after cancelling a booking for homeless people at one of its hotels in Hull. Yet despite the media scrutiny – and social media users vowing not to stay in its hotels again – it didn’t respond for more than 24 hours. And by that time it had completely lost control of the story.
Similarly, the bosses of Facebook remained tight-lipped for five days earlier last year when its data crisis first broke. Not only was this a disastrous strategy, but the silence became something of a sideshow to the rapidly evolving story.
So, how quickly do you need to respond? Well, some believe it is as little as 15 minutes, which sounds pretty intense. But it is a lot more achievable with prepared holding statements.
Prepare your holding statements
One of the keys to being able to meet this ever-tightening deadline for responding to a crisis is to already have holding statements prepared which can be quickly adapted to cover the incident you are experiencing.
An effective holding statement will buy an organisation some crucial time until it is able to get a better understanding of what has happened and issue something more detailed. It will also help prevent the spread of rumour and speculation.
The crucial thing to remember is that when the worst happens, social media and journalists will not expect you to have all the information at your fingertips. But they do want to see that you are aware of the incident, that you acknowledge something has gone wrong and that you are trying to resolve the situation.
As holding statements actually don’t need to go into any great detail, they can easily be prepared in advance.
Many organisations seem to have difficulty apologising.
Some simply don’t say ‘sorry’ at all. When Mastercard’s ‘meals for goals’ campaign turned into a reputational own goal last summer, it backed down and changed its offer. But it didn’t apologise – it simply said that it was ‘adjusting’ the campaign.
For other brands, the apology seems to be something which they tick off all too flippantly as they make their way through their crisis media management response plan.
“We take this matter extremely seriously’, for example, is overused and lacks both originality and sincerity. While ‘we’re sorry for any offence’ suggests that the organisation doesn’t really feel it has done anything wrong.
That was certainly how it came across when Puma responded to accusations of glamorising drug culture in one of its campaigns last April. It said it regretted ‘any misunderstandings’ and added: “We apologise for any upset or offence caused in the usage of this language."
But these half-hearted and guarded types of apologies are not good enough. Organisations are now expected to show that they really are sorry and that the apology is meaningful.
A corporate apology needs to reflect sincerity, honesty and empathy if it is going to resonate.
Don’t play-down what has happened
A fairly regular theme in recent crisis media management incidents has been organisation’s succumbing to the temptation to play down the scale of what has happened.
Take TSB for example. When a failed IT upgrade plunged it into crisis, the then CEO Paul Pester was quick to take to the airwaves to say that the problem had been fixed. But two days later he admitted that only half of its customers with an online account were experiencing a normal service.
A couple of years ago, when Samsung was dealing with reports that its Galaxy Note 7 phones were catching fire, it described a product recall as an ‘exchange programme’.
And when reports emerged about supposedly safe replacement devices also combusting, we were told the company was ‘temporarily adjusting the Galaxy Note 7 production schedule’. Just 24 hours later, we learnt that new production was precisely zero as the decision was taken to call time on the model.
A clear aim in any crisis media management situation is to minimise the organisation’s reputational damage. But that cannot be achieved by trying to minimise the scale of the crisis itself because, ultimately, as more and more customers take to social media to voice their concerns and journalists dig further, the full magnitude of the issue will become clear.
Put your plans to the test
Crisis testing exercises which put organisations through realistic and challenging scenarios are not only crucial, they are also the only real way of ensuring plans are robust.
We are often involved in crisis scenario testing for our clients. Organisations learn whether the crisis plans they have on paper will work in the real world and where they need improving.
It can also help them identify gaps in the crisis teams and any crisis communication training needs, test internal comms systems and help establish the best spokespeople to put in front of the cameras should the real thing happen.
*Download our FREE eBook to find out more about planning for a crisis. It includes a checklist to helping you identify the right spokesperson, messaging templates and a risk register to help you identify your organisation’s vulnerabilities.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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