This article was originally published with The Manila Times on May 2, 2019.
Recently, a local talent management agency launched an online campaign I found most unusual. It announced the opening of applications to become the next “Xander Ford”, while simultaneously airing the dirty laundry regarding one of their current artists. In an extensive statement that accompanied the announcement of the talent search, words such as “cancer”, “stubborn”, “hopeless” were used by the agency to describe their allegedly wayward talent.
As of writing, the agency’s post has garnered over thousands of shares and comments, with many people sympathizing with the talent and berating the agency.
This incident emphasizes the importance of crisis management, and here I discuss tips for effective crisis management for businesses, brands, politicians, etc.
Prep, prep, prep
Like the Boy Scouts, one must always be prepared. No one wants a crisis in business, but it pays to be prepared in case one does occur.
Planning is key, and time is not on your side. Have a skilled spokesperson, one who is trained specifically in handling the public and the media. Prepare press kits. Open communications channels for the public. Assure the customers and the public steps are being taken. Make statements only when you have all the facts. Move quickly, but carefully.
Many brands are tempted to appeal to the younger generation. In recent weeks I’ve seen some political and product ads tailored to attract the millennial target market, by either using millennial terms or trying to be edgier and bolder in their statements. Some are successful, and some simply aren’t.
Sometimes, we all focus too much on the concept that we forget or miss key issues or concerns. My point here is to always use fresh eyes, especially with the target market. Expensive and unnecessary backlash may be avoided if extensive market research and localized focus groups are implemented prior to the actual launch.
For example, the still infamous 2017 Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner was produced in-house by Pepsi and had not used an external agency. Consider as well the “insensitive” Dolce & Gabbana ad in China that resulted in cancellation of fashion shows and pulling of D&G products from the massive Chinese market.
Nix the fuel to the fire
Once a crisis starts, immediately the crisis management plans have to be implemented. Tempting as it may be for those behind-the-scenes, it never pays to keep talking. Statements have to be carefully crafted, reviewed and studied for legal and public relations purposes before release to the public.
BP’s 2010 oil spill lasted 87 days, killed 11 people and caused immeasurable damage to the environment of the Mexican Gulf. The publicity was not good for BP and was worsened when the CEO’s apology ended with the selfish-sounding phrase “there’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do…I’d like my life back.” As expected, that statement backfired incredibly, leading to the eventual replacement of Hayward as CEO.
The talent agency I mentioned earlier could also learn a thing or two. It already felt the public criticism in literally thousands of comments to the original post, many showing sympathy towards the wayward talent and anger against the agency. Yet, the agency’s official social media accounts are still replying to those comments with a canned statement that places blame onto the artist, and even implying that the artist’s parents have given up on him.
A good rule of thumb in communicating during a crisis is to show Concern, state your Actions, and add Perspective (C.A.P.) in that order, and never reversed.
For instance, let’s assume a crisis involving food poisoning hit the news and your product is being blamed. The first thing you do is show concern and empathy to those hurt or injured. The next thing is to inform the public on actions you will take, which may include: how you will help the victims, pulling your products from circulation, how you will investigate the cause of the food poisoning, etc. Finally (although not always necessary) is to add perspective to the crisis. This is tricky as it may sometimes be received by the public as your attempt to mitigate your responsibility, and can involve phrases like “this never happens” or “this is only 1% of the population”. What you should never, ever do, tempting as it may be, is to allege that your products may not have been the cause, even if this has not yet been proven to be your fault. Statements like “what else did the victims eat” may be perceived as blaming the victim, which will only serve to worsen your crisis.
These are only some tips in avoiding and managing crises, but allow me to leave you with this quote from Benjamin Franklin: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
The author is Founder and CEO of Caucus, Inc., a multi-industry, multi-disciplinary management consultancy firm. He graduated MBA (De La Salle University), Juris Doctor (Far Eastern University), and Masters of Law in International Commercial Law (University of Nottingham, United Kingdom). He also studied Mandarin Chinese Language and Culture in Fuzhou, China, was a Chevening-HSBC UK Government Scholar, a Confucius Institute Scholar, an alumnus of the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, and a Fellow of the Asia Global Institute – University of Hong Kong. The author may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.