Crisis communications are a perpetually hot topic. While most companies have some kind of crisis plan or approach outlined, nothing can entirely prepare you for a crisis before you are in the midst of it. I can’t imagine that Procter & Gamble had a placeholder statement in the event that teenagers started to ingest laundry detergent and post it on social media. The bizarre and deeply unsettling situations that are looming large in the news right now, have us thinking about how companies in many different industries can best navigate crisis situations of all types.
Take immediate action and responsibility
While it’s important to put together a thoughtful and strategic approach to mitigating the crisis at hand in the long term, it’s also important that you immediately take action and take full responsibility. It can be as simple as stating that the company is aware of the situation, regrets any harm and will update stake holders soon on next steps. When videos surfaced of a passenger being dragged off a United flight last year, the company not only waited until the following day to issue a statement, but they continuously changed their approach, first seeming to blame the passenger. It was more than 48 hours before the CEO actually apologized for the incident, enough time for significant consumer backlash and disgust to build. Getting the right statement out immediately to a broad audience can help a company focus on fixing the issue at hand.
Consider your spokesperson
While the general default is to look to the head of the company to act as a spokesperson in a time of crisis, that might not always be the best choice. You need a spokesperson who is relatable, trustworthy and appropriate for the situation. This might be a chief technical officer or a human resources executive. If there isn’t an appropriate fit within the company, or there is no executive with the proper title, you might consider giving your chosen spokesperson a new title in the advent of the crisis or bringing in outside counsel or support. Amtrak recently appointed a new chief safety officer after a series of crashes and derailments. This is an essential move for them given the danger of the situations they are dealing with, but even less serious issues deserve robust executive oversight. Changing an internal title and role in the short term can strongly showcase commitment in the eye of the public.
Don’t sweep it under the rug
After an initial media blitz, there is the tendency to not resurface the issue for fear of sparking renewed interest, conversation and press coverage. This is a mistake. It is important that throughout a crisis, that you continue to update stakeholders on the company’s progress towards resolving the problem. Further, once the immediate hurdles are overcome, the company needs to take a longer-term perspective on repairing their reputation. For months after Chipotle’s issues around foodborne illness and sick consumers, the chain continued to publicize efforts around educating workers and launched an ad campaign focused on food safety. While the idea of resurfacing a horrific mistake may seem cringe-worthy, it’s an essential part of changing brand sentiment in the long term.