Crisis management for unprecedented times
Chief Marketing & Growth Officer
Unprecedented: the word of the year. Even as the world has turned awry, some companies were hit harder by the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown than others. The unprecedentedness of the situation caught them off-guard and unprepared. The result was massive losses at least, and annihilation at worst. Could anyone have prepared for this? What marked the difference between the survivors and the defeated? What made some companies more resilient than others? In short, it was their ability to anticipate, prepare for, and mitigate a crisis. And then bounce back from it.
Crisis management has today become central to the role of a communicator. Even at the best of times, given the excess of information and spread of traditional and social media, a crisis could emerge for a brand at any time. During the pandemic, everything has become even more magnified, plus there are issues that weren’t there before—issues of business continuity, and in some cases, threats to the very survival of a brand.
There has to be a holistic approach to crisis management, and communications sits front and center at the strategy table in that regard. In the current scenario, when things are already precarious, reputation risk management can really be pivotal. A holistic approach to crisis communications spans the range from preparedness or resistance, to response or mitigation – and finally to recovery, restoring trust and confidence in the brand.
As mentioned before, the brands that are doing better than others are those that have been able to anticipate and prepare for crisis. No one knew a pandemic was coming, but one of the main elements of crisis preparedness is scenario-mapping. What are some of the worst-case situations that the brand could be hit with? Some of those could be situations peculiar to the brand’s industry, while others could be all the situations that contracts group under the term “force majeure.” In essence, this has been a “force majeure” year. But still, the most resilient brands were the ones that thought to ask: what are the possible mitigation strategies that could be applied to a global crisis?
The other big element of crisis preparedness is setting up a crisis protocol— which should answer questions ranging from who will be in the crisis management team, to what will be the direction in which information and responsibility will flow. In times like this, such scenarios and protocols can come in handy, because they give a brand standard operating procedures (SOPs) that can be applied to a range of crises. Also, with the right protocols in place, a resilient company gains a head-start so that it can focus its energies on the specific aspects of the crisis it might be facing – rather than figuring out who is in charge.
Here is where you see the real difference between companies that have built resistance and those that haven’t. If you have the protocols ready and activated, you can directly get to the messaging, medium, and monitoring. In the current moment, the monitoring component is one of the most critical undertakings. A war-room – of course, a virtual one - needs to be set up immediately. Besides helping you keep an eye on the evolving situation, this war-room monitoring space can also create new inputs into your response strategy. Speed, creativity, and a keen sense of identifying the right message for the right medium are the pillars of a good crisis response.
Once the immediate danger to the brand has passed, it’s time to make sure there are no more holes in the boat. Also, once trust is lost, it takes a long time to earn back. Companies are likely to stay under the microscope for months, if not years, following a crisis. Rebuilding trust calls for a rigorous approach. On the one hand, you need to consistently chip away at the core issue so that it eventually stops being the only lens through which your stakeholders view the brand. And on the other, you need to reinforce other aspects of the brand so that there are other touchpoints to engage your target audience.
Ultimately, a brand’s response to a complex issue or crisis is a test of character. And character is at the essence of why stakeholders will stay with or abandon a brand during this time. With the principles of crisis communications and reputation resilience in mind, a brand can move people through authentic and transparent communications to build trust. The goal is to not just survive, but emerge stronger after a crisis.
Important points for crisis management
- Make sure that crisis management protocols are in place that outline roles and responsibilities clearly.
- Set up a war room to monitor and analyze the situation 24/7. This should have a combination of technology and human intelligence at work.
- Activate the strategy and strictly follow the agreed protocol to avoid confusion and escalation of crisis.
- Once the crisis has passed, it’s time to rebuild trust.