It can take years to build a brand, but only one second to lose it. This is amplified by citizen journalists with phones in hand capturing every moment and posting instantly on social media. Public opinion from seeing these images says “guilty” and negatively impacts a brand. Companies need to respond immediately and sincerely.
This is especially true considering the recent crisis communication events impacting companies (e.g., United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Pepsi, Uber) and how their CEOs, spokespeople and representatives have responded to the public. It’s unfortunate, but not surprising.
For more than 20 years, I have served as a crisis communication counselor and onsite trainer for clients in various industries handling incidents such as fires, bomb threats, layoffs, discrimination suits, union strikes and so on. Over time I have discovered that many companies and individuals are not well-equipped on how to anticipate and respond in a crisis. They often make their remarks based on emotions and limited information, not facts.
Below are a few tips for maintaining a positive and credible image:
- The first 24 hours are the most crucial. During this time, the initial statements set the tone. It should be transparent, with no blaming or downplaying the incident. Everything said should be based on verified facts – this will help avoid backtracking and correcting errors. Address what is being done and steps being taken to prevent an incident from happening again.
- Use “in-touch” language. United Airlines, in its initial comments regarding the incident of the passenger being dragged off their plane, apologized for having to “re-accommodate these customers” and that the booted passenger was “disruptive and belligerent.” These comments were out of touch.
American Airlines recently had its own on-board incident that was videotaped and went viral. Perhaps learning from the recent United Airlines fiasco, the company replied with more in-touch language, “What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers. The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care. In short, we are disappointed by these actions."
- Identify incidents before they happen. The best companies and organizations conduct issues and risk management regularly before a crisis ever emerges – identifying and analyzing potential or emerging issues and risks, taking corrective action and properly preparing response plans. Being prepared in the thick of a crisis requires investing in issues management and crisis training now. There are early warning signs, you just need to look for them and act upon them. Pay a little now or pay a big price later.
Is your company or organization prepared in case of a PR crisis? Most aren’t. Contact us today.