Southwest Airlines. YouTube. Starbucks.
When you read those brand names, it is safe to assume that many of you may have also thought “Engine explosion that killed a successful businesswoman and mother of two, campus shooting, arrest of African American men for no apparent reason.”
While these behemoth brands are popular household names, they are also currently synonymous with controversy. The similar thread in these three situations, that all made national headlines across the globe, is the fact that they were all isolated incidents that those in leadership positions at these companies could not have possibly predicted. A deadly engine malfunction, a rogue shooter, and a poorly trained employee acting out based on racial prejudices are things you hope you never have to deal with, but for these brands, these situations became all hands on deck, four-alarm disasters that needed to be addressed, and fast.
Keep Calm and Think Fast
To be a successful crisis PR professional, you must be quick on your feet, able to keep your wits about you even when it feels as though the sky is falling, and be comfortable with crafting eloquent and well thought out statements on a tight deadline. Southwest Airlines, YouTube and Starbucks all have robust communications teams that are trained for these types of hectic situations, but it is important to remember that any brand, no matter how big or small, can be roped into a crisis situation at any time and unwittingly find themselves at the center of the day’s news cycle.
Whether it is an extremely serious life and death situation, like the tragic accident with Southwest Airlines, or a negative viral pop-culture movement that involves your brand (eg. The infamous This Is Us Crock Pot fiasco – RIP Jack Pearson – or the Tide Pods Challenge debacle), you need to be sure you have a team behind you that is ready to make swift decisions that help, and not hurt, your brand.
Every Second Counts
In the fast, and we mean really fast, moving world of social media, every second counts. When something big breaks in the news cycle there can be thousands of tweets or social posts fired off within seconds. We live in a time where everyone wants to be in the know all the time, and people want their information fast. Platforms like Twitter truly move at the speed of light, and when a story becomes popular, everyone and their mother usually wants to chime in – including, but sadly not limited to, a certain user who may or may not hold one of the most powerful political seats in the free world (but that is a story for another time.)
The Starbucks situation blew up within a matter of minutes because a fellow customer recorded the incident on their phone and uploaded it to social media. Within minutes thousands of people were talking about the injustice that took place in the Philadelphia store, and soon, it was making national headlines. When the YouTube shooting happened on April 3, YouTube workers and passersby were live tweeting the situation within seconds. This is how news is disseminated these days. Any Joe Shmoe can be quicker on the draw than CNN if they have their phone out in the right place at the right time. This means brands need to be constantly monitoring the social chatter surrounding their brand and they need to be ready to jump into action if need be.
Crafting a Brand Statement
When tragedies or crisis situations strike, naturally one of the first things on people’s minds is: “What does the brand have to say?” After the deadly Southwest engine explosion, the YouTube campus shooting and the Starbucks arrest, the clock was ticking for these brands to make a public statement. Behind the scenes on those days there were no doubt quickly-thrown-together board room meetings with top company executives and communications teams who were working to put together statements and overall brand party lines for the specific incidents.
Every word in a public statement can be picked apart and scrutinized, so while it is important to work quickly, it is also important to be smart and know the audience you are speaking to. Be ready to face backlash and remember that it is impossible to please everyone. Impossible. Make sure your company has a representative who is comfortable dealing with the tough questions and who won’t buckle at the knees the second they are put on camera.
Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst
It takes years and years, and years, to build a solid and trusted brand, and it takes only minutes for all of that to fall to pieces if you aren’t careful.
While you hope your brand or company never has to deal with a large crisis, remember to always plan for the worst and hope for the best. There is a reason people pay so much for different types of insurance every month – we know in the back of our minds that crisis can strike at any time.
The team at 8THIRTYFOUR is no stranger to crisis communications and would be happy to sit down with your team to put together a crisis management strategy for your brand. Reach out to us today using the form below or email Kim at [email protected].
We will leave you with this:
“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” – Murphy’s law.
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