Fighting fires is an integral aspect of managing any enterprise, whether it is a mom-and-pop operation, a Fortune 100 company or a political campaign. Crises arise at the drop of a hat, and many bear the potential to derail momentum or destroy a project. However, crises need not be bad news only. Many offer the opportunity to display the virtues of a company or those managing its operation. Very often, it’s not the adverse events that linger in the public’s mind, but the response to them. Handled honestly and transparently, a crisis is a fire and you, as firefighter, have the chance to be a hero.
In 1982, seven people died after taking extra-strength Tylenol capsules laced with potassium cyanide, a deadly poison. Sales of the analgesic plunged into free fall. Yet, executing a rapid response still cited today in management texts, Johnson & Johnson quickly recalled 31 million bottles of the product – $100 million worth – and launched a major initiative, in conjunction with authorities, to track down the killer, unfortunately without success. However, its efforts, widely reported by the media, earned J&J kudos. The Tylenol brand, in harder to breach packaging, soon recovered America’s trust.
In 2009-10, Toyota had its fire. The Japanese automaker was forced to recall almost nine million vehicles for safety defects, including a problem that caused a car’s accelerator to jam, resulting in several deaths. The company, slow to respond at first, quickly got into gear. It offered extended warranties and displayed sincerity and compassion in its corporate communications thereafter. Within a year, the Toyota brand had bounced back.
Despite the inevitability of crises, many business owners are completely unprepared for catastrophes and embarrassments, either believing that they will never happen or that there will be enough time to address the challenges when they come. However, with social media demanding and enabling an unprecedented level of transparency, having a crisis management program already in place is a necessity.
Crisis management should include initiatives designed to lessen the impact of the adverse event and preventive measures to ensure that it does not spread any further. Effective crisis management can greatly reduce the negative fallout and get your company back on track much sooner. It should also include steps that will prevent any similar crisis from occurring in the future.
Crisis Communication Tactics
Your response will obviously depend upon the type and severity of the crisis. Therefore, it’s important to have a seasoned team of firefighters who can place your crisis into context. After setting up your team, designate someone – preferably with public relations experience – to speak on behalf of the company. Brainstorm with the team to identify what kind of crisis might affect your company and practice how you would respond.
It’s important to remember that immediacy and transparency are the two most vital elements of any crisis response. Be as open and honest as possible, and never lie about what happened. Often, the whole truth will eventually come out, and, if you have been dishonest with the public, you lose all credibility.
At QualityStocks, one of our specialties is crisis communications. Using press releases, social media, your company blog and other similar channels, we manage the crisis until it’s finally under control. Throughout this process, we watch for opportunities to minimize damage, use the event as a marketing tool and help your brand become more resilient. As German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche opined, “What doesn’t kill you, may make you stronger.”