Speed Matters in a Crisis Situation: Shark Week Case Study, Part 3

Just tuning into this series? Check out part 1 and part 2 before diving into the following post on the importance of speed during a crisis situation. 

Sharks must keep swimming to keep from drowning, right? We all know this. Well, it’s not entirely true. Jaws. Deep Blue Sea. Sharknado. This thing. Sharks have been getting a bad rap for years. While they may be faster than Michael Phelps in the water, they are way too slow in controlling their narrative in the media.

Which brings us to our friend, G.W. Shark and his vegan donuts. The media and the public already have an established narrative around sharks and Shark Week is only feeding into it. There’s a crisis communications mantra: tell it all, tell it early and tell it yourself. If G.W. has any hope in selling vegan donuts in a post-Shark Week world, he needs to get the truth out there. It has to come from his sharp-toothed mouth and most importantly, he needs to do it fast.

Get there quick

In a crisis situation, silence can be deadly. As the news starts to unfold, time is of the essence – every minute that goes by allows competing news to circulate while G.W. considers his plan of attack. Luckily, with a pre-approved crisis communications plan already in place, G.W. saves himself precious time and stress, enabling him to confidently dive right into action.

The first step is to determine which client representative is prepared and available to address inquiring media – this will inform the reactive messaging direction and which media to target.  When lining up your speaking bench, it’s important to identify a spokesperson who is media trained, able to make him/herself available at a moment’s notice and is someone that will carry the message impactfully (e.g., a CEO). Next is crafting the messaging and determining the best communication medium(s) to activate.

Even with a solid crisis PR plan in place, getting the gears going takes time – this is where social media comes into play. Although, be warned – social media is as relentless as it is swift.

Social is necessary  

What happens when you hear a major news rumor or see smoke billowing in the distance? What’s your first reaction? Scan social media to see if anyone is talking about it. The immediacy and expansive reach of social media makes it a powerful tool for any crisis situation. In order for G.W. to use it to his advantage, he needs an impactful and concise message, supporting social media intelligence and of course, access to the necessary social media accounts.

Whether the situation calls for pinning a holding statement to the top of your Twitter account or boosting a Facebook post with a link to more information, social media gives your crisis message a visible and easily accessible platform to live on for the duration of the scenario. That said, with an average of more than 200,000 news stories reported per day in 2016, content can easily become buried in newsfeeds in a matter of minutes; knowing how to best leverage social media broadcasting tools enables a brand to maximize impact by reaching key stakeholders, first.

With the brand message posted, the storm is already starting to calm, but G.W. hasn’t hit smooth-sailing waters just yet – he needs to keep a vigilant eye on the conversation. Leveraging the monitoring and dashboard tools highlighted in the Knowledge post (e.g., Sysomos, trending hashtags), he’s able to track what’s being said about him and his brand in real-time and pivot his media plan accordingly.

Lastly – and most importantly – G.W. should immediately disable any prescheduled social media content across all channels. Because even if he does everything else right, having a Tweet go live amidst the crisis saying, Fish Humans are friends, not food!” will certainly call his intentions into question.

Find a Friendly Fish Fast

The biggest roadblock/bottleneck when it comes to the speed of a crisis communications plan is finding the right targets. Ideally, the right target will be willing to hear your side of the story, able to write a positive or neutral (but still accurate) story and have a platform with enough reach to influence the public narrative.

So whom should G.W. approach? Reporters who are broadly covering Shark Week may be the first natural target, but keep in mind that while they may be the most knowledgeable, they may have a situational bias or be inclined to use his narrative to fit into a story they’re already working on, which is risky. Also, some reporters may only be on the hook (sorry) to write one Shark Week story. So G.W. may be wasting precious time shopping commentary to a high-risk or non-receptive audience.

Another tactic could be to go to a reporter or outlet who are traditionally sympathetic to sharks, but the risk there is their audience may already be shark sympathizers, so G.W.’s messaging isn’t really expanding into an audience that would be colored by Shark Week.

A savvier tactic would be to target reporters or outlets who may want to write about Shark Week but don’t traditionally have an in. A regional business reporter at a major metro newspaper may be interested in the negative economic impact Shark Week is having on shark-owned local businesses, using G.W.’s vegan donut shop as a prime example.

Truthfully, ol’ G.W. has an uphill battle and his position is unenviable. However, as someone whose reputation influences his business, he can’t afford to sit idly by and hope that this all blows over. In a crisis situation, addressing a situation head on, accurately and early is the best way to mitigate damage. Plus, burying your head in the sand is more of an ostrich thing anyway.

Stay tuned for our next post in this series, which focuses on how best to take ownership during a crisis situation…

Natalie Colli, Account Manager
Justin Finnegan, Account Director


Keep in Touch

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

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk