Crisis Issue? Own It: Shark Week Case Study, Part 4

Miss earlier posts in this series? Check out part 1, part 2 and part 3 before diving into the below. 

Despite G.W.’s best efforts, the Shark Week crisis issue is really hammer(head)ing his donut business. He’s done his research so he knows that sharks are getting a bad rep for no good reason, but his few tweets and one-on-one conversations with customers aren’t doing enough to turn the tide of public opinion.

At first, his anger and frustration at those hypocritical humans is overwhelming, and he seriously considers pointing the finger (ahem, fin) in their direction. But G.W. quickly realizes that in order to take a bite out of the crisis, he has to swallow his pride and take ownership of the issue. Sure, he’s a vegan, but there are some bad sharks out there. His new strategy: own the issue, educate the public and position himself as a leader for shark rights! In this case, G.W. doesn’t have to accept any blame (and he shouldn’t), but he can acknowledge that some shark attacks happen and what to do to prevent them in the future.

Now that his message is established, he has to get it out there. And this time, he’s putting all of his force behind it by taking ownership of the crisis himself.

How can you take ownership during a crisis issue? Let’s dive in…

Press Releases

Press releases are one of the more common techniques in public relations. Press releases are used to get information to the public in a fast, easy way. While press release distribution can be costly, the practice can be valuable which is why companies across the globe use them in their PR strategy. When developing a press release, what practitioners need to remember is: what information they need to share, why they need to share it and who the target audience of this message is. Press releases can be used to share positive news like personnel announcements, funding announcements, merger & acquisition announcements, new product releases, new partnerships, etc., but they can also be shared negative news like layoffs, bankruptcy, product recalls, security breaches, etc. The lists go on.

The important part of a press release is the proactive media pitching that accompanies a press release. While issuing a press release over a distribution wire is effective, personally pitching key contacts in the national, trade and local media will be an added layer of exposure for any announcement. As we know, writers and reporters like to be targeted individually, rather than as part of a larger media blast. Building relationships with writers is the key to any successful PR program and an announcement is the time to continue fostering those relationships.

In the case of G.W. Shark, a press release may not be the best course of action. Because his donut shop hasn’t done anything specifically wrong, G.W. doesn’t have anything to specifically apologize for (in fact – it’s the opposite!). We’d counsel G.W. to look into other awareness building activities to help boost his business during Shark Week. An event, or community speaking engagement that is open to the public, may be the best course of action for G.W. A press release in this case will make the public aware and will be a good tool to get people aware of the event itself, the details of the event and what they can expect from the event.

Paid Media

G.W.’s crisis is one many brands hope for – one where he has the upper hand. G.W. did nothing wrong, yet his brand (and thus character) are being questioned. Utilizing paid media strategies can help G.W. publicize his side of the story.

crisis issue

The first step in any paid campaign is defining the goal. G.W. wants to spread his message (Sharks are great! Some make delicious donuts!) to key customer segments likely influenced by the negative media attention. Second, we want to make sure our audience and channel strategy is solidified before digging into creatives. In this scenario, we’d recommend a brand awareness campaign promoting G.W.’s website across his most highly-visible channels. For G.W., Facebook is his shop’s most productive channel, with thousands of followers and stellar engagement rates. Facebook is the only place customers can find that day’s highly-sought after flavors (the fans LOVE exclusivity!).

With our goal clearly defined and our audience and channel strategy in place, the next step is creatives and messaging. If your brand has a predefined crisis plan, it’s time to bring it off the shelf. All outbound communications, including paid media, should align with your overall crisis messaging strategy. Remember – sincerity is key as we aim to re-establish and build brand confidence in the audience during a crisis issue.

Depending on time resources and budget constraints, your exact targeting will vary. In the immediate, use retargeting methods (customer email lists, website visitors, etc.) to get in front of your existing audiences. If, like G.W., you want to continue bringing in new customers through the door despite the crisis, we’d recommend also employing more general targeting techniques to inject your positive message into the conversation.

As with any campaign, monitoring and optimization must happen throughout. Crisis communications is not an area where you want to “set it and forget it.” Keep an eye on what your customers are saying and how they’re engaging with your campaigns. Be agile and willing to make adjustments to messaging, targeting and creatives on the fly as the crisis ebbs and flows in the media and for consumers.

Email Marketing

Email is the perfect medium for sending a sincere, straight-forward message directly to your subscribers’ inboxes. In the case of a crisis, it’s best practice to have a simple, single-column, and text-only template at the ready. This type of email differs from a typical “oops” or apology email, which seeks to correct or clarify a mistake in a previous email. Reserve this text-only template for major announcements, apologies, and brand milestones. It should be sent sparingly for maximum impact.

When the time is ripe for an all-subscriber email of magnitude, craft a message that’s sincere, apologetic (if necessary), and succinct without the distraction of images or commercial messaging. The message should be signed by an authoritative individual, executive, founder, etc., to put a face behind the brand and demonstrate a sense of accountability. Provide a point of contact (email address or phone number) for your subscribers to air any questions, concerns, or comments they may have to; just make sure someone at your company is armed with the right information for the issue at hand and is ready to supply a timely, personal response.

However, just because email is an ideal medium for direct communication, doesn’t mean that hitting the send button is the right choice, especially for G.W. Sometimes such an email draws unnecessary attention to a little-known or insignificant issue. Save a serious send to address a major change, apologize for something you actually did wrong, or to clarify a matter that has the potential to cause significant brand damage. If the problem persists and G.W. sees substantial business loss as a result, we’d recommend looping email strategies into the crisis plan. Until then, let’s see how else we can help.

Influencer Engagement

To turn this whole PR crisis issue around for G.W., a great solution is leveraging influencers to spread positive messages about sharks and his vegan donut business.  

Let’s take a look at the most influential people on Twitter discussing Shark Week during last year’s programming, using a network visualization map. Click on the visualization image below to access the interactive map.

crisis issue

All dots on the graph represent a Twitter handle and the lines indicate the mention or retweet of the connecting handle. We can use a data-driven strategy to identify our most highly-connected, and thus influential targets. Eigenvector centrality, the computing method behind our network graphic, may seem like a mouth-full but it’s simply the measure of influence (and reach) of any given user in a network.

When we export the raw data from this graph and rank by eigenvector centrality, we see a few potential influencers that standout:

crisis issue

Now that G.W. has his list of potential influencer targets, the fun begins! We’d encourage G.W. to reach out to these key consumers and use their networks to spread his positive message. The level of engagement will depend on budgets and resources, but network graphing makes it easy to identify who will give you the best bang for your buck, so to speak. By applying this research strategy, we can organically turn the tides of discussion, implement our message to the audience, and earn some business for G.W.’s vegan donut shop.

Events & Speaking

Events and speaking engagements are also a great platform for company leaders to leverage when trying to build brand awareness, personal visibility as well as to handle a tough situation or bad press. These type of tools allow executives or business owners to get their story out to their direct audience in a more intimate, brand focused setting. Events put on by a company or individual allow control over a situation and messaging.

In the case of G.W. Shark, an event in his donut shop would be the perfect community builder to show the friendly side of sharks. G.W. could invite some of his closest shark friends to show that what the media is saying negatively about isn’t true about all sharks. While there may be some validity to the stories the media is sharing, G.W. Shark and his friends can introduce themselves to the public, show the good side of sharks and introduce new visitors to the donut shop, what it has to offer and how it is a wonderful store within the community. Plus, who doesn’t love free donuts!

G.W. can use email marketing to spread the word about this in-store event, as well as a press release, if necessary. He can invite key media members to visit, too! This gives him an opportunity to meet and begin building relationships with new reporters, or further develop relationships he may already have built.

Finally, people are starting to hear G.W.’s side of the story. A few customers have even come in to apologize to G.W. for their galeophobia. But is it enough? Stay tuned to see how G.W. can really measure the success of his strategy.

Jessica Crawford, Senior Account Executive
Natalie Cullings, Marketing Analyst
Kerin Norton, Account Manager
Tori Sabourin, Account Manager
Lisa Zanchi, Marketing Analyst


Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk