Crisis can strike at any moment. And with the pace of social media, a crisis can spiral out of control and impair a brand before the marketer can even map out their damage control plan. Marketing and PR executives shared their damage control playbooks at the Digital Media Summit in Toronto last week, and offered some key tips to help avoid disaster.
Speak first, speak clearly, speak often
When something bad happens, it’s often best to break the news yourself, before it arrives through the filter of the press. In 2013, a fire broke out on a Royal Caribbean cruise, leading to a call to Cynthia Martinez, the company’s global director of corporate communications, before the break of dawn.
Without hesitating, Martinez prepared a statement and tweeted it out. The first media call, she told Digital Media Summit attendees, didn’t come for more than an hour. By getting ahead of the news, Martinez said the brand had some control over how the story was told.
From there, she said the best course of action is to continue communicating and answering questions even before they’re asked. “Provide information often and do that until the situation ends,” she said.
Show the course of action you will take
When a real crisis hits, it’s not enough to just apologize and move on. In most situations, Martinez said it’s important to also show what the company is doing to remedy the situation.
She offered the Costa Concordia shipwreck as an example. While the ship was from another cruise line, she said it negatively affected the entire industry. The solution: Costa Cruises, Royal Caribbean and several other companies rallied together and promised to perform safety “muster drills” before leaving shore, rather than within the 48 hours after leaving, which is the legal requirement.
It’s essential, Martinez said, for brands to say, “Yes, this happened, but here’s what we’re doing to not let it happen again.”
Crisis happens when you get stuck in your company’s bubble
A crisis often starts with a marketer failing to look past the walls of their own corporation, according to Kristina Libby, who handles Microsoft’s consumer and media relations in the U.S.
Everyone in your company may be excited about a new campaign, but that doesn’t mean consumers will be receptive to it. It’s critical, she said, for marketers to understand what’s going on not just across their industry, but also in the broader culture.
If marketers look only at their insular world and not the cultural context it fits into, their communications are going to come off as tone deaf and insensitive, she said.
Do media training constantly, not just in crisis
The ultimate goal for crisis management is to stop problems before they start. One way to do this, Libby said, is to constantly media train. Instead of prepping Microsoft’s execs before an interview or during a crisis, she said she works with them on an ongoing basis.
It’s important, she said, for the people who represent the Microsoft brand to be educated on what’s going on in the news and on the web, so they know what topics are sensitive and can avoid potential gaffes.
Stop, think and relax
It’s easy to get caught up in the tailspin of a crisis. While speed is important in crisis communications, it’s also important to take a minute to think critically about what’s happening, said John McCauley, senior director of marketing at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
Marketers often make things worse, he said, by jumping the gun, needlessly bringing attention to a small problem for fear of it becoming a big one. Likewise, some come up with pointlessly elaborate reasons for what they did wrong. He said it is essential marketers avoid acting hastily in the moment.
When a brand makes a big mistake, the only real course of action is to own up to it. If brands fail to accept responsibility when they make a mistake, they’ll come across as inauthentic, McCauley said.
“Swallow your pride, apologize and wait for it to blow over,” McCauley said.
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