Tag: crisis

The significance of saying sorry

head in sandImage source: http://www.quotemaster.org/head+in+the+sand

It’s very rare that you will meet a business owner or entrepreneur that says that life is easy. More likely they will be denouncing their irritation at having people presume that they come into the office at 10am, leave at 4pm, take boozy lunchbreaks and reap all of the benefits.

That is very rarely the case, and in our experience is somewhat far from the truth.

So when a businessman or woman who has a list of jobs to do as long as their arm comes into work one morning to be faced with a crisis, what should they do? More often than not PANIC and look around for someone who has some idea of the processes that they should already have in place

This is a fair assumption of smaller to medium sized businesses, but in the recent case of United Airlines it would be fair to expect that this globally recognised brand would have known better when faced with a very challenging and controversial situation involving a passenger.

Social media, as is typically the case, gave a global audience all of the information they felt that they needed – backed up by reports from local and national media – to make their own deliberations and come to their own conclusions. Needless to say, a resounding majority of them were far from positive, with one man calling BBC Radio 2 to confirm he had cancelled a flight and would never use the airline again.

The brand was in a really difficult position. Do they go against the authorities and their ‘heavy handed’ removal of the passenger or do they hold their hands up and make it clear that this will not be tolerated and that it was not endorsed by their brand or business, reiterating that a full investigation will follow?

Neither it would appear. Instead, a statement was hurriedly issued that didn’t really say a great deal of anything. This was followed by 24-48 hours of criticism from the world’s media before the Chief Executive decided it was time to do a piece to camera and to apologise and to share a relatively detailed and apologetic update.

Unfortunately, this was too little, too late for many and the time it took to conclude that this should have been the approach all along meant that there was a certain lack of sincerity to the piece.

Needless to say, losing a billion dollars from your share price overnight is going to make you feel sorry for yourself but what about your passengers, who along with your crew, should be your first priority?

As an agency that handles crisis for some of the leading brands in the country, we appreciate how significant the passing of time is in a challenging situation. It is absolutely essential that any situation considered a priority becomes an IMMEDIATE priority.

That doesn’t mean if you work in manufacturing that you pull the plugs on all machines and sit on your hands. It means that senior management should cancel ALL meetings however important and come together to discuss the issues and to carefully and quickly plan the next steps.

Brands must be prepared, irrelevant of their size. This means having a team in place that knows that if something happens they will be required. It’s simply not good enough to issue a statement to say that your managing director is on holiday and unable to comment. Unfortunately, having a business means that people expect that you are available any time of the day or night and if it is impossible for that to be the case then who is responsible in your absence.

These are all of the things that should be decided and the processes that should be agreed and in place before anything happens, not during the first major disaster a brand is faced with.

We see it all too often. When we mention crisis to a prospective client the answer is invariably the same: “There is very little that can happen and we don’t foresee anything in the future”. Well, of course, you don’t – otherwise you would be walking around expecting the worst – BUT that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen.

Scenario planning is a great way to get people involved and to make them appreciate the need and urgency of a crisis. Bringing people together to role play is another way that a crisis can feel more real without you having to go through the processes in ‘real life’ for the first time.

Saying sorry can be difficult for a brand, particularly when there are often many factors and variables that are rarely shared in full with the media but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a duty of care to your customers and those who may choose to use your products or services in the future.

Here’s a really simple five step guide to dealing with a crisis*:

  1. Bring the senior management team together (and ideally a representative from your appointed PR agency)
  2. Share the facts – ALL OF THEM. This is absolutely essential so that everyone knows what you are dealing with and the possible fall-out as a result.
  3. Draft a response for the media including a holding statement. Depending on the nature of the crisis starting with an apology is often a good idea.
  4. Handle all media calls and schedule interviews throughout the day – these should be managed as the situation unfolds, not afterwards. This is likely to be your only chance to respond to media requests. At this point you will also need to identify a spokesperson.
  5. Evaluate. Review the processes you have in place, learn lessons and make crisis a priority for the future. However crisis-proof you feel your business, life has a challenging way of proving us otherwise.

*Every crisis is different and have a PR agency in place that has experience of working across a number of sectors will give you the advice you need to tweak these five tips to ensure that you are approaching any given situation with the sensitivity and professionalism it deserves.

Your customers should always come first in a crisis

There was a collective intake of breath throughout the PR industry this week when news reports declared that a Thai Airways plane had skidded off a Bangkok runway on Sunday injuring 14 passengers on board.

It wasn’t the incident that had caused a stir with PR agencies however it was the fact that in their misguided wisdom, Thai Airways had taken the unusual approach of ‘blacking out’ their logo so that any media reports would  not display the company’s branding.

There are many, many reasons why this was a very misguided act on behalf of the airline, not least based on the fact that all reports would still reference the brand within their stories, name checking the company as they did so, and also that blacking out the logo simply created a reason for the business to continue to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons!

The first rule of any crisis, for any brand, of any size is to stand up and take responsibility. If there has been a problem that you are aware of and you are responsible then hold your hands up. It is far better to say sorry than it is to offer a no comment or attempt to portion blame elsewhere.

Crisis can be difficult, particularly when the press are involved but the simple truth of the matter is that in order to maintain a level of dignity and credibility throughout these situations, companies have to address the matter professionally.

Thai Airlines should have been making a statement in response to an incident, which lets remember had left 14 passengers injured, as opposed to putting their brand first. A simple two minute comment which started with: We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to our passengers… and then ended with: We are in the process of carrying out a full investigation into this matter…

The un-written statement from the brand based on their actions reads more like: We have better things to do than consider our customers at this difficult time. Instead we are going to take poor advice and cover up our logo. We will be back shortly – does anyone have any black paint?

As a result of their actions the business haven’t so much blacked their logo as their name.

Having managed crisis for some of the UK’s leading businesses, here at Open Communications we are no stranger to difficult situations. Our advice to clients is always to be honest. In any event we work from our clients offices to ensure that we are on hand to offer the advice and guidance that they need.

It would be silly to suggest that crisis are simple, they are particularly uncomfortable and potentially damaging. Irrelevant of how disastrous a situation appears it can be handled correctly and professionally, ensuring that whatever the outcome the directors of a business can maintain their integrity and where possible the reputation of the brand.

Here are five top tips for managing the communications in any crisis situation:

  1. If required issue an internal announcement to all employees giving brief details of the situation and also guidance on who to direct any media enquiries through to
  2. Arrange a meeting with all board directors and senior managers within the business
  3. Discuss in detail what has happened and most importantly why
  4. Draft a statement to all media
  5. Manage all media enquiries and DO NOT under any circumstances issue a no comment

As you would expect, we would always advise that in these instances the first thing that you is contact your PR agency. If you don’t have a PR agency then we would strongly advise that you find one with the experience and credentials needed to support you during what could be one of the most difficult times of your career.

In the same way that people rely on legal practices when things go wrong, organisations should trust and rely on communications experts when it matters most.

And remember, no business ever has a crisis, until it has a crisis!

HORSE BLUNDER IS A ‘DEAD CERT’ FOR FARM SHOPS

As expected the story about horse meat being found in products that are specified as beef continues to run and run… sorry!

Having already commented on our blog about the need for food products to be more clearly labelled, it also got me thinking about who could benefit from the blunder. As ever when a PR crisis hits the press there are winners and losers and without a doubt Findus are currently taking the brunt – mainly due to the way they have chosen to manage a crisis, which relied on effective, honestly and timely communication with customers, stakeholders and the media.

Yet another shining example of why brands should have communication at the heart of everything they do and a PR team around the boardroom table.

Anyway, I digress.

As a former Yorkshire Dales Lass and someone who is an eager supporter of farm shops, I think this situation is a dead cert for those who are willing to use it to their advantage.  I can just picture it now, a big billboard sized poster with the strap line ‘Our horses are here for riding only’ or ‘A farm shop where beef is beef and proud of it’ with a cow looking proudly at the camera.

There are so many quirky and cost effective things you could do with this situation to reinforce the commitment by farm shops to provide fresh produce to customers. This is a real opportunity for those who want to shout about the need to buy fresh and to buy British.

I wonder who will take the bull by the horns and be first past the post with a campaign that will take a negative and use it to their advantage. I’ll have a side bet that it won’t be long before we see one of the local farm shops in the West Yorkshire area putting a few well-placed puns out there.

Has anyone seen any great examples of smaller brands and businesses using this ‘cash cow’ (or should that be horse?) to their advantage? I can’t wait to see them.

A hoax too far

The recent news about the untimely death of a hospital worker who had unwittingly answered and transferred a hoax call from an Australian radio station sent a chill down my spine. Not only do I think, like many others, that this was a tragic waste of a life but that it will also go on to affect many others including the presenters involved, who we can presume are soon to be unemployed.

When the news first broke about the transfer of the call from reception through to the nurses who were responsible for the care of the Duchess of Cambridge I have to be honest, I was beyond shocked. My first reaction was to wonder why appropriate measures weren’t in place to ensure that this couldn’t and wouldn’t happen?

The hospital is used to dealing with high profile patients and should be accustomed to taking calls that may be obscure or even unsolicited. It strikes me as strange that even at 5.30am there was no process in place to manage this.

I would have expected that all calls would have been managed in a similar way to how a PR agency would manage a crisis. When we work with clients we put a simple but effective procedure in place to ensure that all calls are handled professionally and efficiently. It works and it means that we are able to respond in a timely fashion – but at the same time it also takes the onus off the receptionist or internal team, leaving them to get on with their day to day roles.

In this case it would seem that this was not possible, leading to the most devastating of outcomes.

The more serious side to this ‘prank’ was that it should never have been discussed never mind considered to be a good idea. I’ve laughed at prank phone calls before, you know the ones:

Caller: Can I speak to Ivor please?

Person on the line: Ivor who?

Caller: Ivor Biggan

Person on the line: Ivor Biggan, does anyone know Ivor Biggan…

I would be lying if I didn’t think these calls made me giggle but at the same time they are by all intense and purpose completely harmless. The difference with a call to a hospital is that for one you are calling an establishment knowing that people are there for a reason – because they are ill. That can never be funny.

By the time the call was made the world was aware that the Duchess was pregnant but also that she had been admitted to hospital with a potentially serious illness, which has been known in cases to lead to the loss of a child. Now, call me overly sensitive, but that can never be funny!

In my opinion the call was inappropriate in the first instance but the presenters took it one stage too far when asking after the health of the Duchess. What if something terrible had happened? What if she had suffered a miscarriage and as a result of this misguided joke these presenters were the first to find out? I fail to see the humour in that outcome, which at any time during this situation was a very real possibility.

The presenters in this case are likely to regret their actions for the rest of their lives and their hoax call will certainly go down in history – but for all the wrong reasons. This story just goes to show how powerful the media can be and the obligation that broadcasters have to consider the outcome of any fun they choose to have before going ahead.

There must be a producer involved in this case somewhere, although they appear to be keeping their heads down. This is a sad case of bad judgement which has led to the Christmas of at least three families being ruined. Let’s hope other ‘pranksters’ will take note and think twice before acting on an impulse.