Jaideep Shergill: Six ways companies can deal with a crisis

15 Jun,2015

Jaideep Shergill

By Jaideep Shergill

 

Of the various corporations that can be hit by crises, food, pharma and energy majors are the most vulnerable. Gargantuan brands, built over decades, can be reduced to a pile of rubble quickly; all it takes is one operational mistake or a quality slip-up.

 

The worst thing corporations can do during a crisis is clam up. The golden rule of communicating even more during a crisis is usually forgotten. We’ve seen that during the recent storm around a noodles brand. When the management did decide to host a press conference, it was several days after the controversy broke.

 

Here are a few things that I would keep in mind during a crisis —

1. Choose the Right Spokesperson: The higher his/her rank, the greater the credibility of the message. Temperament is important. Your spokesperson will face hostility; s/he will need to keep his/her cool and stay on the message.

2. Act Quickly: Recall the product if there’s a fault and fix the problem quickly. Initiate a fact-finding process and institutionalise the corrective measures. Your reputation is top priority; it’s the currency of business today. Owning up if you’re wrong and apologising is a virtue, and would go a long way in helping your brand claw back to the top.

3. Get the Message Right: Remember, it’s not about the money or liability. You are accountable to your customers and other stakeholders, such as employees, vendors, the communities you serve and the government. Put people first. Also, ensure that your messaging is consistent.

4. Be Open: Acknowledge the seriousness of the problem right away. Decide on the frequency of your updates and stick to it. Detail what you are doing and its progress. Put somebody in charge and designate points of contact for those affected and others, such as the media. Full disclosure never hurt anybody.

5. Media as an Ally: Many corporations treat the media as adversaries. If you’re transparent and proactive, they can be your allies in communicating with key audiences. Be an advocate, not an adversary.

6. Be Prepared: The best time to deal with a crisis is when it hasn’t yet hit. Anticipate and be prepared for all that can go wrong. Have response mechanisms in place and refresh them regularly. Many corporations insist that their top and middle management go through crisis communications training. This is smart thinking and money well invested.

 

Never have brands been under greater scrutiny than now. All stakeholders – from customers to employees – are demanding more from businesses, not just in terms of value for their loyalty but also on the corporate responsibility front.

 

Unfortunately, most brands turn a blind eye to it. Be part of the minority; you’ll be happier for it.

 

Jaideep Shergill is co-founder of Pitchfork Partners, a strategy consulting firm. Previously, he was India CEO of MSLGROUP, a strategic communications network. A slightly shorter version of this appeared in ‘dna of brands’ dated June 8, 2015

 

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