Reputation Management During a Crisis
The need for brands to be accessible 24/7 has created many opportunities for companies looking to connect with their customers/constituents in a more meaningful way. Each year, we see new ways for brands to destroy themselves without even trying. When a crisis happens – and we all know it will – how are you prepared to deal with it?
There are three primary areas of failure during a crisis:
Not getting ahead of the message
Lack of transparency
During a crisis, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Even the best intentions may lead a brand down a path from which there is no return – or at least, a long road to recovery. In 2014, there were so many notable crisis communications fails that it would be impossible to list them here. Here, we’ll take a look at just two highly charged incidents that certainly could have been handled better.
Comedy Icon Ruined
Aside from the tidal wave of accusations, what stuck out about the Bill Cosby crisis was the way he chose to handle it. His crisis communications strategy was/has been simple: complete silence. Ignoring the questions. Not addressing the allegations directly. Let’s assume he was given legal advice not to self-incriminate – smart. Unfortunately, the silent approach just isn’t effective anymore, and by saying nothing, he probably did more damage than if he were to address the issue head-on.
Check out this video from Time Magazine, which marked the first time since allegations first came to light that Cosby said anything at all. What did we wait so long for him to say? “I don’t talk about it.” Let’s not forget about the interview where Cosby asked a reporter not to air the segment where they briefly discussed the allegations. Uncomfortable, to say the least. More damning than actually saying something meaningful? Probably.
Part of the legal case is now winding its way through the court system (here in Pittsburgh, no less). Since the allegations surfaced, several of Cosby’s stand-up shows were cancelled, honorary degrees redacted, and his reputation is ruined (rightfully so).
Tragedy Followed By Lack of Communication
In the days immediately following the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 in March 2014, officials from both the Malaysian government and the airline released several conflicting and misleading statements. Multiple theories were considered and floated in the media. Family members were kept in hotel rooms for days – a seemingly innocent act of compassion that only led to prolonging the grief when there was no real information to share.
To make matters worse, some family members reported that the daily media briefings they did receive were one or two days behind what was already in the news. Then, once the plane was confirmed missing, the airline actually texted families. Texted to confirm the plane's disappearance. Can you imagine? Although texting in an emergency situation can be a quick, efficient way to communicate, a text message can never replicate face-to-face communications, especially in a tragedy.
Even though the airline didn’t have much information to share, sometimes it’s best to simply say “we don’t know” rather than releasing incorrect information, then backtracking later. Victims’ families still don’t trust the airline, and how can you blame them? The airline did not do a good job of showing genuine concern for the families’ well-being, and the amount of time it took to release information was appalling. Now, Malaysian Airlines faces a reorganization and will go private after the erosion of public trust.
What other more recent PR blunders can you think of that seem to follow the same pattern? United Airlines comes to mind.
An Ounce of Prevention
According to Jeffrey Durosko, President and Founder of Jeff Durosko Communications, “The most important thing is to be prepared before a crisis occurs, with a good crisis plan and ongoing discussions and training. That way you’re never caught unaware when a crisis happens.” Then, he said, when a crisis does occur, “make sure you follow procedures set forth.” Perhaps most important is ensuring the right person is sending the message – ideally, this should be the CEO or highest-ranking-official possible.
As we saw in the Malaysian Airlines example, their biggest mistake was not being prepared. They were figuring out what to do as they went along (or so it seemed). Even though they probably had good intentions, intentions mean nothing without results. Durosko’s advice is to “have procedures laid out in advance” that can be adjusted according to “situational flexibility.”
Cosby’s PR error resulted from saying nothing at all, another top mistake, says Durosko. “When companies [or individuals] don’t take a situation seriously enough, and avoid speaking to the media until after the media have taken control of the message,” then there’s really nowhere to go but down.
There are ways to control the message, says Durosko. Be “honest and forthright,” even though it may be difficult. Dursoko acknowledges there will be negativity from the media and public at first, but “if you are honest and show true concern and how you are going to avoid a bad situation in the future, … you can come out of a crisis situation with more respect.”
What’s the bottom line? “Tell the truth, show and demonstrate genuine concern, and offer solutions,” says Durosko. “It’s how you react to negativity that will determine your future reputation.”
What do you think? Any other tips for establishing a crisis communications plan or avoiding reputation disaster when crisis hits? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Reprinted from LinkedIn, original post 2/2/15