Avoiding a crisis situation is a little bit like winning the lottery. You’re lucky if it happens to you, but let’s face it, it’s probably not happening to you.
Most companies are bound to have a small crisis every now and again, and if you don’t play your cards right (cough*NFL*cough), you can have one of these very fun little PR situations just about every few weeks. When it rains it pours in the world of crisis comm.
Working in crisis communications, we've developed a bit of an addiction to following these situations – and watching how they play out. It’s sort of a hobby. Keeping our pulse on unfolding crises help us become better at our jobs. And we’re totally into that.
So we think nothing—absolutely nothing—of spending our mornings scanning the news and sending around links of what went well, what went kind of terrible and what went particularly awful. In fact, throughout the entirety of 2014, we indexed hundreds of crisis situations including the best –and the absolute worst—responses. There were some serious doozies.
When you talk about crisis as much as we do, you start to see certain patterns that paint a bigger picture of the crisis communications landscape. What that looks like now – and what it will look like in the future. So for your reading (and preparing!) pleasure, we put together a list of what we see for 2015 – the types of crises we know are coming and the ways the best communicators will respond to them. We made sure to make it a super quick read, with nice graphics and tons of great examples from last year’s fiascoes. Sounds awesome, right? Read away!
Here at Epic – we don’t have a crystal ball – but we
do have an idea of what our clients need to keep
their eyes and ears open for in 2015.
Insights are about staying ahead of the curve, understanding your
market and identifying issues and opportunities before it’s too late. Our
insights will help you spot potential crises and make moves to prevent
issues from becoming unsolvable.
These insights can help you:
SHAPE HOW YOU PREPARE
PLAN AND BUDGET FOR THE UNEXPECTED
PROTECT YOUR BRAND REPUTATION
CRAFT A HUMAN RESPONSE
Myths are those false ideas organizations have that misguide how a crisis is
handled–large or small.With no shortage of crisis advice out there–we wanted to
start with the biggest myths of them all–so you’re not only able to avoid them, but
you find your move for the best way to combat them when dealing with a crisis.
Do these myths sound familiar?
SPIN IS IN
IGNORE THE HATERS
WHAT HAPPENS INTERNALLY STAYS INTERNAL
THE MEDIA WILL WAIT
IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU
The truth always comes out. You can either get ahead
of it–and provide an immediate level of honesty and
transparency–or you can leave out some of the facts and
risk an even greater chance of permanent brand damage.
A crisis can erupt for any number of reasons within an
organization–product recalls, misconduct allegations,
organizational changes, but one thing remains certain:
the easiest way to mitigate long-term brand damage is a
commitment to transparency right off the bat.
In the past, corporations detested the idea of being
transparent and preferred their secrecy in order to keep
a competitive edge (think the Coca-Cola formula or KFC
secret recipe). Today, household names like McDonald’s
are adopting transparency into their operations to bridge
the gap between big business and consumers. The fast food
chain’s “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign encourages
everyday people to ask probing questions about the food,
the company and its practices. In the not-so-distant-
future, McDonald’s move into transparency won’t be
cutting-edge but the expected norm.
For years, the National Football League (NFL) got away
with sweeping scandals under the rug to protect the
league’s and players’ reputation. Now, NFL Commissioner
Roger Goodell and the NFL members and leadership
are paying the price for their glaring misconduct in the
handling of Ray Rice’s assault of Janay Palmer Rice. We
predict that the NFL will be in for a rough road ahead
if it doesn’t learn from past experiences and maintain an
upfront, forthcoming and comprehensive approach to
its communications surrounding any player or potential
misconduct. Deflate-gate anyone?
Like your mother always said – honesty is the best policy. Whether you’re
announcing a big change – or responding to backlash, be transparent. Expect that
some people may not be happy with your move, but make sure you’ve covered
your bases. Did you have a specific process in place to make the change? Are you
sharing details on an ongoing basis as they become available? Make sure you
communicate, you’re clear about your actions and always be prepared to respond
to backlash before you make the announcement.
RISE OF THE
opinions to get noticed in a noisy social world. This will
impact companies and organizations that aren’t listening
and responding quickly enough to issues that arise as a
result of these pesky pot-stirrers.
In the 1950s and 60s “caloric-saving” breakthroughs
helped put Diet Coke on the map as a weight-watching
alternative to the original Coke. Now food vigilantes,
like the Food Babe, are poking holes in the United States’
chemically enhanced dietary habits with activist blogging.
This year you will see more brands take a page from the
activist book and adopt a more polarizing market position
for maximum impact.
Grassroots activists used to organize local demonstrations
to push an issue to the forefront – the internet has made
that a thing of the past. Take the LBGT community boycott
of the Beverly Hills Hotel. The gay community denounced
the old Hollywood establishment because of its owner’s
position on anti-gay legislation. The Sultan of Brunei
ignored the protests, thinking it would go away, failing
to respond and minimizing the issue. It wasn’t long after
that celebrities and other supporters joined in to support
the LBGT’s community’s effort, making international
headlines. It goes to show you that no matter how big or
small an issue might seem, not responding once a story
has gone viral is no longer an effective strategy.
Understand that everyone has their pot-stirrers, but it’s important
to keep your pulse them. What may seem like one noisy critic can
quickly escalate if not addressed in a timely manner.
From employee backlash over layoffs to member
departures over unaddressed concerns, we’ve seen it all
this year. Things are hard to keep quiet these days. With
social tools that allow seemingly small populations to have
large voices, what may seem like a small internal issue can
have big time repercussions.
of the Direct Selling Association (DSA). Fast-forward and
once again Avon is leading the way – but in the opposite
direction. In 2014, Avon terminated its membership with
DSA and wrote a letter to existing members to consider
the same move after accusing DSA of promoting pyramid
schemes. While there has been no further publicized exits
from the DSA, in the future the association will no doubt
pay greater heed to its members’ concerns and manage
When the company behind one of the most popular
internet browsers, Mozilla, named its new CEO, Brendan
Eich, it was no secret than he came with an unpopular
decision from his past. He had donated $1,000 to
California’s Proposition 8, a failed attempt to ban same-
sex marriage in the state. While we’re sure the company
expected some public backlash, what they hadn’t planned
on was the public-facing objections they would receive
from their own employees, who started a social media
campaign asking the CEO to step down.
Don’t ignore small internal concerns -- they can easily become much
larger issues. Know where your employees and members stand and
realize that if you don’t respond to their quiet concerns, they may
choose to make an issue much louder. They won’t always have your
back if you don’t have theirs.
OR GET LOST
If marketing is a race and you’re not leading the pack–
then you’re just lost in the crowd. Adopting a real-time
response culture at your organization is key to leading the
public conversation in your direction.
Gone are the days when organizations had hours, and
sometimes days, to prepare a public response for a crisis.
In today’s instant-gratification world, what you say, and
don’t say, in the face of a crisis can make or break how
you are portrayed in the media – No one understands this
more than AirAsia’s CEO Tony Fernandes. Following the
news of the lost AirAsia Flight 8501, Fernandes was quick
to respond. He was applauded for his personal briefings
to the families of those onboard the flight and his use of
Twitter to keep the media and consumers in the loop. As
the C-suite evolves, leadership will not only be charged
with making smart business decisions, but with also
knowing how to provide a leading, real-time response in
the face of a crisis.
You used to have to wait for the morning paper delivery to
know what was going on in the world. With the advent of
the 24/7 news cycle and the internet, regular news updates
can be pushed out in real-time to targeted audiences.
Consider the Emergency Nurses Association’s (ENA)
quick and nimble response to the Ebola outbreak. Within
a couple of hours, ENA had notifications up on their
website, sent recommended practices and procedures to
its members and provided support for the headlining new
stories at all the major outlets. Associations in-the-know
will follow ENA’s lead for how to respond to a crisis in
real-time and position themselves as THE go-to source.
Have a plan in place to respond to a crisis before it happens. Drill your
leadership and create a rapid response team that knows how to be nimble
when stakes are high. Understand when you’re response is central to the
crisis at hand–and when it’s not–and have a streamlined approval process in
place to expedite the crisis response.
With opportunity comes great responsibility. Some events
that look like a crisis are really the world responding
positively to your brand. The most equipped organizations
are practiced at maintaining a non-judgemental posture
for their brand even in a the face of change brought on by
Before the rise of the internet, social media and paparazzi,
large corporations and personalities were afforded some
privacy while facing a crisis. Now, the curtains have been
pulled back on the entrepreneurs and moguls of the world
and all of their crisis management is exposed. For instance,
public figure Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic’s CEO, has
an active presence on social media–so when the company’s
first commercial manned space flight, SpaceShip2,
exploded over the Mojave Desert, it was imperative
Branson respond. His tweets and communications with
the public, Virgin Galactic’s staff and the media contained
vital information, but more importantly a mindfulness for
all those involved. As communication continues to move
into the next frontier, the divide between organizations
and their leadership will shrink and emotional awareness
will be central to crisis response.
The Ice Bucket Challenge to promote awareness for Lou
Gehrig’s disease became a worldwide sensation this year,
helping raise more than $5.5 million in donations for the
ALS Association (ALSA). ALSA’s CEO, Barbara Newhouse,
did not have a mindful response. She was quoted saying the
following about the challenge: “I have not seen anything like
this in the nonprofit space outside of a disaster” and “they
[staff] are all operating on high levels of adrenaline here–and
sugar, because I make sure we have plenty of doughnuts and
coffee.” Newhouse was far from focused with her response and
missed the opportunity to thank people for their support and
educate the public on the disease. In the future, ALSA and
other associations in a similar position need to reflect what
the world is saying and doing about their cause, find focus and
show more mindfulness in the moment.
A swift response is key when facing a crisis–but before you say
anything–consider ALL of your stakeholders and know what message
you want to send. Information is important, but always be sure to
acknowledge and focus on the human impact.
At Epic, we know it takes a lot more than what you say to activate your audience and
advance your promise. The expression of your purpose and position in the market
is important. How you say it, when you say it and how it manifests visually can
differentiate you in the crowded landscape. We bring brands to life through the creation
and cultivation of an organization’s internal, external and visual voice.Whether we’re
training staff on how to talk about their organization, implementing a comprehensive
PR strategy for attracting media attention or refreshing an outdated identity package, we
ensure our client’s driving force is brought to life.