by Jennifer Lefkowitz
Life is full of surprises – the good, the bad and the ugly. The same is true of running an organization, where the stakes are high and public fallout can prove detrimental for the future of the brand.
While no one wants a crisis to occur, with the right planning and response, a crisis can actually present an opportunity to restore trust and credibility and demonstrate your company’s commitment to its customers.
According to a recent survey, how a company responds to controversy, including how quickly, is more important in driving public perception than what is said about that company in the media, by employees, on the company’s website, by spokespeople or in the company’s advertising.
To help companies prepare for and prevent unexpected situations (and avoid becoming a “what not to do” example of crisis communication), Approach Marketing recently hosted a crisis communication workshop, featuring a panel of local and nationally recognized brands, legal counsel and media.
Each panelist provided real-life examples, tips and advice to help business owners and brand managers prepare for and prevent crisis situations.
Some of the key takeaways from the panelists included:
Dace de la Foret, Director of Social Media, Nationwide Insurance… on the role of social media in a crisis
Social media plays a pivotal role in the majority of crisis situations as either the catalyst or vehicle to disseminate information during a crisis. Dace shared that social media can be both a friend and foe in a crisis situation.
“Streaming video and the ability to stream live should be something to be both concerned about and take advantage of as a communication vehicle for your company. What I like about social media in times of crisis is that you can get your message out quickly, as long as you stick to your brand and who you are as a company or a person.”
Robin Grant, Corporate Counsel, Big Lots Stores, Inc… on the roles and responsibilities of legal and communications teams
As a lawyer and a former communications professional, Robin encourages companies to engage with their legal counsel in advance to establish a relationship and trust.
“Lawyers are trained issue spotters. For companies with in-house counsel - use them, get to know them, and develop a mutual trust that will be beneficial when a crisis occurs. If you don’t have in-house counsel, call an outside attorney so they can advise you if you have a problem.”
When it comes to finding a fine balance between legal and communications pertaining to what should be said in a crisis situation, Robin said, “Admittedly, we err on the more conservative end of the spectrum than public relations, and somewhere in the middle is most likely the right answer to handle the situation.”
Lisa Armitage, Owner, Goldfish Swim School - Westerville and Goldfish Swim School – Dublin… on the necessity of having a practiced and executable communications plan
As a small business owner, Lisa, knows the benefits of having a crisis communications plan ready to deploy on a moment’s notice.
“When you get the 4 a.m. phone call alerting you of a crisis, knowing you have a plan in place and being able to quickly respond, with the right team who is trained in their roles and responsibilities, is very helpful and relieves some of the pressure associated with an already stressful situation.”
Mikaela Hunt, Brand Journalist, Mikaela Media LLC… on the value of building strong working relationships with the press
As a seasoned media professional, Mikaela spent nearly 17 years in TV news in every seat from producer to anchor. In advance of any crisis, Mikaela encourages companies to develop and maintain relationships with industry-specific media. Should a crisis strike, you already have a strong working relationship with the press and can easily disseminate accurate facts. She also shared that spokesperson training is critical component of crisis preparation to make sure your is accurately communicates with their constituents.
“I always encourage spokespeople to think about their company and its mission and purpose before they go into any interview. In a crisis situation, a spokesperson that is authentically apologetic and shows empathy can help regain trust and credibility.”
Jeff Kane, Marketing Consultant… on the ability to protect all parties by ensuring everyone is prepared and informed
Jeff has spent the past 15 years working for one of the world’s largest fast-food restaurants. Because foodborne illnesses pose a serious threat, he shared that a detailed crisis management plan is posted in each restaurant location with specific instructions and contacts.
“It’s very important to have all parties involved in the crisis plan such as suppliers and vendors. When it comes to protecting the health of the customer, everyone should be on the same page with the plan and what to do. Writing a great plan is the first step, but makes sure everyone is in the loop can really save the day.”
Kristin Mack Deuber, Public Relations and Marketing Consultant… on choosing the right spokesperson
Kristin has counseled numerous spokespeople during crisis situations and knows the importance of having spokesperson that is informative, relatable and credible. But here’s the catch, it’s not always the CEO.
“The specific crisis situation will help dictate who the appropriate spokesperson should be. In some cases, it’s beneficial to use the CEO for major developments, and a representative from the communications team can deliver daily or ongoing updates. Regardless who your spokesperson is, it’s important they are well trained to disseminate the facts during a high pressure situation.”