Why seconds count in a crisis


What do many well-known reputational crises have in common? Often, the company is too slow to acknowledge a problem and respond, which can amplify an issue into a full-blown crisis.

Take CrossFit for example, when CEO Greg Glassman tweeted ‘it’s Floyd-19’ amidst protests for the death of George Floyd, it took the company two days to officially apologise. Locally, Scott Morrison was met with criticism and later apologised for continuing his family holiday in Hawaii as bushfires burned across Australia. To this day he faces the uphill battle to recover his ‘sMoKo’ tag.

Wall painting of Scott Morrison

Looking back further through Australia’s crisis archive, the lack of a timely response continues.

In 2016 Dreamworld awarded CEO Deborah Thomas a bonus package rumoured to be worth $860,000 a week after four people died at the theme park. Essendon’s supplement scandal is another infamous debacle, with the club self-reporting the use of banned substances during the 2012 season, but only admitting to this fact in February 2013, and taking months to stand down the coach at the time, James Hird.

It is much more difficult to rattle off a handful of well-managed crisis examples… it may be because issues that are addressed quickly and respectfully often do not last long – if at all – in the news cycle.

You can’t always control when a crisis hits, but a swift and considered response saves time, money and most importantly, reputation. So, how can this be achieved?

Fill the information vacuum

A lack of information surrounding a crisis can increase its severity, causing stakeholders to feel concerned and potentially prompting commentary and speculation from media or competitors.

Over recent weeks, Victoria has seen a surge in coronavirus cases, deemed to be the ‘second wave’ for the state. Controversial Australian media commentator, Andrew Bolt was quick to call out the State Government for being ‘secretive’, and goes on to blame immigrants for the community transmission. An information vacuum has been ‘filled’ by Bolt in a harmful assessment that affects not only government reputation but also alienates the community involved.

If you are at the centre of an incident, be the source of truth rather than frustration. In a text-book crisis response, people such as employees or customers should go to you for information rather than the headlines, social media or ‘heresay’.

Understand the 24-hour news cycle

Hand in hand with filling the information vacuum is understanding the 24-hour news cycle. Gone are the days when a company had hours to meet a journalist’s deadline for the next day’s print run. Now, articles are constantly being published and updated online in real time.

Even if you don’t have all the facts on hand, it’s crucial to communicate what you know and what you are finding out – as quickly as possible – to position yourself early as a credible voice in the narrative.

Similarly, social media invites conversations that can be difficult to control and track.

While social media increases pressure from companies on their response time, it does present the benefit of speaking directly to your stakeholders, rather than going through a gatekeeper such as a journalist.

The New Zealand Government has made a clear effort to be transparent with providing information. Jacinda Arden has hosted Coronavirus Facebook Live sessions to answer questions on self-isolation measures.

Jacinda Arden on Facebook Live

Reinforce your brand’s values

Crisis can be an opportunity to reinforce your brand’s values to customers and the broader public. People are willing to forgive mistakes, especially if a company takes responsibility quickly.

Within hours of KFC’s delivery error causing a shortage of chicken, KFC placed a number of full-page advertisements in British newspapers with the letters ‘FCK’ front and centre. The apology was not only swift and clear, it also aligned with KFC’s brand personality and values.

KFC ad

Contrast this against the Mark Zuckerberg and Cambridge Analytica saga. Zuckerberg’s response – or lack thereof – hindered Facebook’s reputation and brand trust, wiping off $50 million in Facebook stocks. In what has been dubbed the 14-year apology tour, Facebook failed to address its data protection faults in a timely or satisfactory way. Many also took issue with the apology, which was framed as a consumer privacy problem and not one of active user manipulation.

Create a crisis plan

Creating a crisis plan in preparation for an incident is one of the key ways to ensure you can respond in a timely way.

An effective crisis plan should include:

- A corporate issue/risk assessment
- Key messages and holding statements
- Key communication channels
- Stakeholder map and contact list
- Nominating your internal crisis lead and crisis team

Your team can also be better prepared with the help of spokesperson media training and crisis simulation workshops.

History has seen companies’ reputations and bottom lines crumble in the face of a crisis, and too often their response time plays a pivotal role in their demise.

Icon Reputation can assist with 24/7 crisis management and communications to help with responding to an issue, as well as crisis planning. Contact us to find out more.

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