This past weekend, amidst the tricks, treats and everything in between that is Halloween, “Our Brand is Crisis” was released in theaters. The film starring Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton is a fictionalized rendering of a 2005 documentary with the same name about American consultants’ less-than-glamorous involvement in Bolivia’s presidential election.
In one of my classes during my sophomore year of college, our professor had us watch the original version, which was my first up-close example of crisis communications. I learned the importance of trust between companies and consumers and how the way in which companies deal with crises can determine that level of trust.
Since my time at ECPR, I’ve seen my colleagues take on crises and quickly produce an effective solution without breaking a sweat. Public relations professionals learn to not only communicate effectively, but to truly listen to the audience and respond in a way that aligns with expectations from both the client and its consumers.
Below are a few important tips to keep in mind when dealing with a communications crisis:
1. Have a Team in Place – A crisis can occur at any point in time, so its important to identify what skillsets are needed and know exactly who will handle it when the time comes. You can’t always anticipate every possible incident, but you can control how you and your clients react to it.
2. Keep Calm and Carry On – The client undergoing a crisis and seeking help will more than likely be frustrated, stressed, etc. and may apply pressure on your team to craft and present possible solutions very quickly. Remaining professional and positive throughout this process will strengthen their confidence and trust in your ideas on how to fix the issue as well as your team in general.
3. Accuracy and Openness is Key – When going about how to handle an issue, it is crucial to gather all of the facts and be transparent. Responding to a crisis with any wrong information or not addressing every single point that needs to be discussed can further upset consumers and break their trust.
4. Respond Rapidly and Thoughtfully – Taking a long time to speak out on an issue can give the audience the impression that the company is insincere or does not take the issue seriously. Additionally, showing that the client cares about the consumers’ experience strengthen brand loyalty and allow nurturing of relationships with current and potential customers.
Whether crises strike rarely or often, you can never be too prepared when it comes to crisis management. Having a crisis communications plan in place for all clients is imperative, and when handled well, it can limit the negative coverage your organization encounters in the long run.