The Brand Crisis Management Plan

While all organizations intend to create the best possible customer experiences, occasionally something real or perceived happens that produces just the opposite effect: a crisis. Every brand will experience a crisis at one time or another. The hallmark of a strong brand is how well it handles those crises. 

The crisis could come as a result of something the company does such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Volkswagen scandal or something that is foisted upon it (rumors that McDonalds hamburgers are made of worms). But, when a crisis occurs, it is time to enact a well-rehearsed crisis management plan.

So, think about a crisis management now (hopefully, long before any actual crisis), and begin with the following considerations:

•    Steadily and consistently build brand goodwill over time.
•    Identify and address potential problem areas ahead of any actual crises.
•    Have a well-thought-through crisis (or emergency response) plan, including scenarios, step-by-step instructions on how to best address each scenario, approved spokespeople, contact information and key communication documents (fact sheets, backgrounders, press releases, bios, etc.).
•    Work with crisis management experts and your legal staff in developing those plans.
•    Conduct crisis management drills at least once a year if not more often.
•    Conduct a crisis vulnerability audit.
•    During the crisis itself, follow these general rules:
•    Follow your crisis plan.
•    Identify your spokespeople.
•    Respond quickly.
•    Be honest.  Don’t deny or cover things up – ultimately, they will be exposed.
•    Accept responsibility as appropriate.
•    Share as much information as is possible and prudent.
•    Let people know what you are doing to manage the situation.
•    Show concern for those affected.
•    Let people know what you are doing to help people who are negatively impacted.
•    Explain what you are doing to cooperate with the authorities.
•    Let people know if neighbors or others are in danger and what they can do about it.
•    Provide the media with telephone and Internet access and the other tools that they need to perform their jobs.
•    Provide frequent updates to keep the communication lines open.
•    Act with integrity, reinforcing the brand’s personality.

If not handled well, a crisis can undo years of brand equity building. According to Bob Roemer – responsible for BP-Amoco’s public and government affairs worldwide emergency response capabilities – the key to effective crisis management is to offer maximum information with minimum delay. If you don’t have a well-rehearsed plan, you should work with your public affairs department and a PR agency to develop one.

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