3 guidelines to keep crises at bay

Don’t try to sweep problems under the rug. Take immediate action when something goes wrong, and carefully select the right spokesperson.

Companies and communicators should be obsessed with crisis preparation.

Most businesses have a generic crisis plan or approach outlined, though some pickles are impossible to predict. It’s hard to imagine that Procter & Gamble envisioned a phenomenon of teenagers ingesting laundry detergent sweeping the nation. However, it happened, and the company has scrambled to deal with the fallout.

Communicators today must consider—and anticipate—the possibility of bizarre, unsettling, potentially damaging events that can quickly spread and spiral out of control. Here are three key tips to navigate crises:

1. Take immediate action and responsibility.

Don’t dawdle when you come under fire. If your company has failed in some way, own up to it. Take responsibility, and clearly communicate how you plan to rectify the situation.

This step can be simply stating that the company is aware of the situation and will provide updates in a timely manner.

When videos surfaced of a passenger being dragged off a United flight last year, the company not only waited until the following day to issue a statement, but it also changed its position on the matter several times. It took more than 48 hours for United’s CEO to apologize for the incident, which was more than enough time for worldwide anger to reach a fever pitch.

Producing an empathetic statement right out of the gate would have tamped down the backlash.

2. Consider your spokesperson.

CEOs aren’t always the best choice or voice to represent a brand in peril. A crisis spokesperson should be relatable, trustworthy and appropriate for the situation. This might be a chief technical officer or a human resources executive. Regardless of who your go-to person is, make sure they are trained, prepared and ready to deliver in crunch time.

Depending on the situation at hand, it might be wise to create a new position to address concerns. Amtrak recently appointed a new chief safety officer after a series of crashes and derailments. Changing an internal title and role is an easy way to showcase your commitment to addressing the issue.

3. Don’t try to sweep it under the rug.

After an initial media blitz, there is an understandable tendency not to resurface the issue for fear of sparking renewed interest, conversation and coverage. This is a mistake.

Communicators should continue providing updates on the company’s progress toward resolving any problems. After overcoming immediate hurdles, the company should take a longer-term perspective on reputation repair.

For months after Chipotle’s foodborne illness issues, the chain continued to publicize efforts around educating workers, and it launched an ad campaign focused on food safety. Of course, the idea of rehashing a horrific mistake seems painful, but it’s an essential part of changing brand sentiment in the long term.

A version of this post first appeared on the Shift Communications blog.


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