The seven secrets to rescuing your brand from a crisisby
Is there an art to rescuing your brand reputation from a crisis? Judith Ingleton-Beer outlines the seven secrets to containing the damage.
- Get the facts. Assume the worst – who, what, where, when, how.... Then decide whether you're going with an instant rebuttal or damage limitation.
- Instant rebuttal. The instant rebuttal is an absolute denial that the story is true. Make sure you are right, and remember, journalists often know in general but no-one ever tells them in detail.
A perfect illustration here is the Christmas story about those nice furry animals, Go Go Hamsters. In the key run-up weeks to Christmas this year, the must-have toy was said to contain traces of an arsenic-like chemical beyond permitted levels. Immediately manufacturers Cepia got the facts together – story not true. Russ Hornsby, chief executive Cepia LLC, acted swiftly, firstly to deny that the Hamsters were unsafe, then worked all weekend to get new tests done, produced a personal statement (I'm a dad etc. Mr Squiggles is safe) and squeeze a retraction from the US consumer group Good Guide, that had made the claim. Perfect damage limitation – done and dusted in three days.
If necessary, in the case of an untrue report that is actually damaging to your company, you might need to consult with your lawyers and your PR professionals to obtain a retraction. There are quite specific techniques to obtain the retraction and to retain an ongoing professional relationship with the press concerned. Remember the objective is never to obtain financial damages from an influential publication in your marketplace. A retraction of an untrue story is what you require.
- Damage limitation. Take it on the chin – take full responsibility, be empathic to the victims, if there are any, and their families and be in control by outlining the problem and how they intend to solve it. Witness the outrage in the US, and the added damage to brand Obama, when Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, brushed off the glaring mistakes that allowed a Nigerian bomber onto a US-bound plane, claiming on air that everything worked "like clockwork". Like what? Letting the bomber on the plane, relying on passengers to save what would have been a major disaster both in the air and on the ground?
- Lead from the top. The ultimate fall guy makes the statements. We need to know you care. It took Toyota months before the president spoke. On Friday 7 February 2010, Toyota put together a press conference with Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder, who previously only had the courtesy to give a very brief public statement at the WEF in Davos before driving off in an Audi (yes, an Audi – it's all there on the blogs for everyone to read).
- Communicate. With your staff, with your contact centre (remember, in a crisis, the person that answers the phone is as influential as top management), with your customers and with the media. Craft your message to suit your audience.
- Remember, signals speak louder than words. Tiger Woods, a 'Big Brand' in his own right, hid from the media for days, refused to let police officials talk to him and his wife, not once but THREE times, blamed the media and let the bloggers and Tweeters go wild! The signal? I have something to hide.
So what should he have done? Assume the worst – that all the women involved were going to tell their stories. Admit responsibility – just imagine the sympathy vote he would have had if he had appeared after coming out of hospital in front of the cameras, bruised, battered and scarred from his wife's golf clubbing, and said he was sorry.
- Manage that valuable brand that's such an important part of your market capital and business. Remember the Perrier benzene contamination, where, although the product was recalled within a week, an initial communications vacuum was accompanied by attempts to say that there is nothing wrong with benzene. This was followed by confusion and inconsistent messaging among worldwide subsidiaries which prolonged the crisis, and lost Perrier its brand dominance. If only Perrier had launched an entirely new product, benzene free, it might have rescued its tarnished brand.