There now seems to be a brand reputation crisis in the news almost daily. And when a crisis does arise, it is up to you as a communications professional to get the situation under control – fast.
But how? First, you must have a reaction plan in place. This step can be the difference between a blip and a long-term, reputational crisis. Then, you must gather all the facts as quickly as possible. Knowing the conversations that are happening around your brand helps to prepare for and determine the best next steps in mitigating the damage caused by a crisis and moving the brand forward.
A recent PR Week webinar, produced in partnership with Dataminr, detailed how important real-time information and modern marketing can be in avoiding brand reputation crises. With real-world examples from brands such as Adidas, Uber and more, the session lays out a series of tried and tested strategies to prevent you from making easy-to-avoid mistakes as well as teaching you how to come out the other side when the worst does happen.
Here are some of the key highlights from the webinar:
A crisis breaks
"Does your company have a crisis communications plan in place? If not, then you should. Risk is everyone’s business. Findings from PwC’s 2019 Global Crisis Survey show that when it comes to a crisis, it’s not if – it’s when. 69% of business leaders have experienced at least one corporate crisis in the last 5 years — with the average number being 3. What’s more, the risk scales up: companies with more than 5,000 employees are more likely to have experienced at least five crises – an average of one per year," said Theresa Meredith-Hardy, Director, Chameleon.
And crises don’t discriminate. Like companies themselves, they come in all shapes, forms, and sizes – and no one, and no region is immune. "They generally occur as a result of blind spots or risks that haven’t been mitigated, which are building in frequency and unpredictability. So crisis management is therefore transitioning to be a strategic program to protect corporate strategy, which should be sponsored at the highest levels of organisations," said Meredith-Hardy.
"That’s because all brands face the potential for risk," said Robert Mata Vice President of Marketing, Dataminr. "So, when a crisis does arise, it is up to us to get it under control, safeguarding the brand as quickly as possible. Knowing the conversations that are happening around your brand helps it prepare for, and determine the best next steps in mitigating the damage caused by a crisis, thus moving the brand forward."
Essentially, enterprises that cannot anticipate a crisis cannot respond effectively. A recent report by AON found that companies could ADD 20% to their market value or LOSE up to 30% of that value depending on their risk preparedness and management behaviour in the immediate aftermath of a crisis.
The five-step plan
1) Plan proactively
• Identify all potential issues
• Categorise each potential issue
• Create pre-approved messaging
"The first thing I talk to my clients about is the need to plan proactively. Identifying all of the potential issues that could affect your brand is the first key step in being able to effectively manage them. In terms of response and recovery, having pre-approved messaging can help. Having the communications team at the ready with guidelines on what they can and can’t say allows a quick and confident response, with the right information.
"But with any crisis, there are things that cannot be undone. Once you say it, it’s out there, and a "deleted" post never looks good. While we want to make sure we are moving as quickly as possible in getting the correct information out to address a crisis, we must also make sure we have all the facts before initiating a public response," added Meredith-Hardy.
2) Set up a reaction plan
• Create a task force
• Use the proper tools
• Develop a plan of (re)action
Dataminr’s Mata agreed: "Yes, this highlights the importance of setting up a reaction plan. What I mean by this is having the internal processes, procedures and support in place to weather a crisis. This important step can mean the difference between a minor event and a long-term, reputational crisis.
"The first recommendation we’d have is to arrange a task force, with all the relevant parties who may be called upon to react and respond. Most crises happen quickly, so it may be impossible to get all the major players in a room together to discuss and agree to a response at the moment it is most needed. But, if you’ve got a plan and process, a virtual session will do as your team will already be clear on what steps need to be taken."
3) Leverage technology
• Real-time alerting is the tip of the spear in your communications stack pack
• Knowing first allows for more effective use of other social listening, monitoring and measurement tools
• Additional time is critical for understanding the context of an event before developing brand response
"We know that the only way to be prepared for big events is to be alerted early, often, and with as much context as possible. But, how can we truly say we are fully informed in this current environment of endless blogs, tweets and posts? Luckily, we can use tools and technologies to help us do the things that can’t be done manually," said Meredith-Hardy.
"There are technologies that can help manage this process and ultimately become your constant eyes and ears, delivering you critical insights into your brand ecosystem, and serving as your early warning system for crisis management. There is no way to predict where and when these big events will happen, but with planning, you can play a critical role in securing your brand’s future," added Mata.
4) Protect the brand
• Create proactive campaigns
• Address customer pain points
• Create a feel-good connection
"Clear messaging and a coordinated response can also make a big impact when managing a crisis. Reacting to the needs of consumers, addressing and alleviating their pain points in your everyday business will go a long way in securing long-term brand loyalty, which is absolutely essential to draw from when your brand finds itself in a time of crisis," said Meredith-Hardy.
When customers have an ongoing, established ‘feel good’ connection with a brand, they will naturally give the brand the benefit of the doubt, or at least wait until all of the facts have been revealed before jumping on a publicly negative social media bandwagon.
5) Be response-ready
• Gathering information quickly and making timely decisions is key to risk mitigation
"You should prepare for all eventualities. The best way to stay ahead of a crisis is to be forever response-ready. This process can be aided by gathering the appropriate information quickly and making timely decisions.
"We know there will be times when your brand gets caught in the crossfire – even if you haven’t made any mistakes – and when it happens, it pays to be prepared. As communication professionals, it’s up to you to know your brand, shape your story, understand when it matters enough to respond, and quickly communicate with your stakeholders to reinforce the values you hold. This must all be powered by technology, which allows you to face the challenges head on and enables you to anticipate risks, mobilise quickly and take the appropriate action," concluded Meredith-Hardy.
Click here to watch the webinar in full with real-world examples from Adidas and Game of Thrones.