When it comes to managing a crisis, are you a Felicity Huffman or a Lori Loughlin?
Every marketing executive has a very real fear of being under siege in some sort of publicity crisis. The thought of waking up to one of your employees rudely licking a taco shell and posting it for all to see or an executive engaged in something completely inappropriate can bring those of us in charge of a brand’s public image to our knees. So, how do you avoid these pitfalls and prepare yourself and the brand you control for the worst? One of the best tips is to come up with a communications plan that is ready to be implemented, should the worst happen.
Knowing that you need a crisis plan is step one. Knowing how to approach developing that plan is a whole different story. To help brands figure out the best approach, I’ll share a few rules we follow.
When faced with something like the college admission scandal, is your approach like Lori’s or more like Felicity’s? Decide your approach: never guilty at any cost, or looking to be forgiven. Get stakeholders on board and agree on an approach. Is your brand more relatable to the way Felicity Huffman approached her crisis by immediately apologizing and admitting guilt? Or is your brand and its leadership more of the bristling type who never wants to back down and would prefer to approach a crisis like Lori Loughlin has with a “never admit guilt” stance?
It’s one thing to create a plan that has a level-headed approach, but you need to make sure your executives agree with how they want themselves and the company to be perceived so that the comments they give to press and the public mimic your exact approach, you stay in control and no one executive goes rogue.
Once everyone is on board with how the brand and company want to be positioned, make a series of statements for each of your audiences. Your customers or clients should have one set of statements and a plan on how to reach them, while the internal staff has another. If you are a publicly held entity, statements for stockholders or financial backers should take a different approach. These should all have the same amount of detail since the likelihood they will be leaked is around 100 percent. But the message should be presented differently to each audience, so they feel heard.
Now that you have two components of your crisis strategy in place, begin creating contingency plans that escalate based on how much damage control is needed. If, for example, security leaks were an issue with your company’s technology, plan for how many updates to give your clients -- and for how long. You don’t want to overcommunicate a crisis, but you don’t want to assume one statement will be enough to deter a negative reaction to how that crisis was handled.
In this contingency plan, identify two to three executives and spokespeople who are allowed to speak on the situation. They must be media-trained and have approved the approach and statements. It is imperative that their messaging be identified and agreed upon before they are put in a position to comment on the crisis. This helps keeps everyone on script and the communication surrounding the crisis manageable.
In addition, it is helpful to have employees sign an agreement to not give statements regarding the company to any media outlets. Do this as part of your onboarding process for new hires. If it isn’t something you’ve looked at in the past, it is easy to implement with a simple statement for all to sign.
We know from experience that doing the legwork ahead of time and creating the outline for a crisis plan can help keep executives from worrying and keep everyone united in terms of how to communicate under duress. We have worked with a financial institution, a large nationwide behavioral clinic, technology companies and several municipalities that all faced crises from time to time. By having a plan in place and some hard-set rules, we have overcome these challenges, effectively managed their outcomes and kept the brands from being tarnished.
I hope you never have to deal with a PR crisis, but if you do, understanding whether the company is a Felicity or a Lori and following this plan of action should help you navigate the situation and rest easier at night.