Although all organizations intend to create the best possible customer experiences, occasionally something real or perceived happens that produces just the opposite effect: a crisis. Every brand will experience a crisis at one time or another. The hallmark of a strong brand is how well it handles those crises. The crisis could come as a result of something the company does (such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico—more on this in a moment) or something that is foisted upon it (rumors that McDonald’s’ hamburgers are made of worms). But, when a crisis occurs, it is time to enact a well-rehearsed crisis management plan. So, think about a crisis management plan now (hopefully, long before any actual crisis), and begin with the following considerations:
- Steadily and consistently build brand goodwill over time.
- Identify and address potential problem areas ahead of any actual crises.
- Have a well-thought-through crisis (or emergency response) plan, including scenarios, step-by-step instructions on how to best address each scenario, approved spokespeople, contact information, and key communication documents (e.g., fact sheets, backgrounders, press releases, bios).
- Work with crisis management experts and your legal staff in developing those plans.
- Conduct crisis management drills at least once a year.
- Conduct a crisis vulnerability audit.
- During the crisis itself, follow these general rules:
- Follow your crisis plan.
- Identify your spokespeople.
- Respond quickly.
- Be honest. Don’t deny or cover up things; ultimately, they will be exposed.
- Accept responsibility as appropriate.
- Share as much information as is possible and prudent.
- Let people know what you are doing to manage the situation
- Show concern for those affected.
- Let people know what you are doing to help people who are negatively impacted.
- Explain what you are doing to cooperate with the authorities.
- Let people know if neighbors or others are in danger and what they can do about it.
- Provide the media with telephone and Internet access and the other tools that they need to perform their jobs.
- Provide frequent updates to keep the communication lines open.
- Act with integrity, reinforcing the brand’s personality.
If not handled well, a crisis can undo years of brand equity building. According to Bob Roemer—who was then responsible for BP-Amoco’s public and government affairs worldwide emergency response capabilities—the key to effective crisis management is to offer maximum information with minimum delay. If you don’t have a well-rehearsed plan, you should work with your public affairs department and a PR agency to develop one.
Reprinted from Brand Aid chapter 14: Creating the total brand experience. © 2015 Brad VanAuken