As posted in The Gaston Gazette:
(10/1/17) BELMONT, N.C. – Companies of all shapes and sizes face crises. These unexpected, unsavory situations don’t discriminate based on years in business or celebrity status. Rather, moments of crisis strike persons everywhere across all industries, either by their own hand or forces out of their control.
In all of these circumstances – big, small, national or local – how one handles such a tumultuous event often defines the business and its future. The response makes all the difference. Do you tackle the turning point head on, or do you prepare for the worst and quietly wait in the wings in case something bubbling under the surface erupts? Here are five instances when confronting the crisis immediately is recommended:
- Rumors are swirling. Crises are occasionally internally contained. However, a key factor in this occurring is that the situation remains internal. Once the public hears of your business’ snafu, the rumor mill begins to churn and it is essential that leadership tackles the issue with transparency and truth as soon as possible. Never remain silent during this time; this will only allow gossip to flourish. Stillness can, unfortunately, deteriorate your reputation and create long-standing “fact” from fiction. No matter the predicament at hand, genuine honesty can ease a speculating public or media. Depending on the crisis, having a public relations team and, often times, legal counsel on your team early on is critical for communications strategy, crafting public statements or speaking with news media.
- A recall is necessary. If your brand encounters a potentially harmful public dilemma, time is of the utmost concern in alerting consumers. Although your company is certainly a consideration in messaging, the safety and wellbeing of the public must be a first priority as you confront this theoretically dangerous crisis. From recalls on food to manufactured vehicle parts, companies act with haste regularly for the protection of purchasers. You might remember the quite necessary global recall issued for Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 in 2016 after videos of the popular product bursting into flames began to swirl around the internet. Once the brand detected an issue with its newly released device, an informal recall began; however, as combustion issues emerged increasingly, and as incidents were published online, Samsung ceased manufacturing of the Note 7 and a formal recall occurred worldwide to ensure consumer safety. If your business experiences a similar circumstance, coordinate with your legal and PR teams as swiftly as possible to issue information to media and the public through channels that will allow audience members to act appropriately for their own best interests.
- Missteps made. It occurs from time to time – a CEO or senior executive simply says the wrong thing when the limelight is placed on him or her, and that tiny comment makes headlines. The remark may seem insignificant, but in a flash, this one quote can undo years of progress toward a positive reputation. For example, earlier in 2017, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz faced severe scrutiny for his lackluster apology after a passenger was forcibly removed from an airliner – an incident videotaped by another traveler. Munoz was criticized specifically for expressing regret that United had to “re-accommodate … customers.” The public strongly, poorly and unfavorably reacted to both Munoz and United in the weeks and months to follow. When a misstep such as this occurs, it requires action, decisive and positive. Certainly consult with the appropriate individuals before issuing any statement – as recommended with any crisis – but it’s essential that you acknowledge the error and deliver a sincere apology as quickly as possible. These critical steps make a difference for the character of your business and its leadership moving forward.
- A public fatality occurs. This occurs rarely – thankfully. But if your company operates within the public, and particularly in a significantly dangerous industry, you should have a crisis communications plan at-the-ready for any injury or fatality that may occur on the job site. From manufacturing employees to those working in roadway construction or high-rise window washing, a variety of businesses include hazardous moments. You likely prepare appropriately with safety tactics; also prepare with communications endeavors should something go wrong. If a crisis occurs, unfold these plans in a speedy fashion alongside your legal and PR teams to ensure the public and media receive appropriate information. This controls the message with honesty and accuracy, demonstrates responsibility and transparency on your business’ behalf and displays care and compassion for the injured or deceased individual and his/her family.
- It’s a social situation. Gone are the days of repairing every crisis situation with the same strategy. The power of the internet allows one wicked Tweet to become a viral sensation that can pulverize your professional career. For that reason, responding to a social media crisis requires a rapid response. That does not mean swiftly firing back with whatever flows from your fingertips; more times than not, this can fuel the fire with continued discussion or, worse, argumentative behavior. Rather, engage in the same communications consultation and consideration as previously mentioned to ensure thoughtful replies that address the situation with confidence, candidness, correctness and concern.
There is zero possibility of ensuring your business is crisis-proof; however, you can prepare in advance with communications plans and you can act responsibly, transparently and apologetically if one occurs. Not every situation will require running to the media or a vast public outcry, but certain moments require immediate attention and sharing details swiftly. If you face a crisis and are still unsure of the best path to take, contact public relations professionals and/or legal counsel immediately for assistance with action steps.
Lyerly Agency’s President and CEO Elaine Lyerly and Executive Vice President and COO Melia Lyerly share their 35+ years of marketing, advertising, public relations and brand strategy experience with readers each month in a column published by The Gaston Gazette. See this month’s edition at http://bit.ly/2xb4kAU.