Brand in Crisis……Shut Down Media

Is that all it will take to get the brand out of trouble? No. So why do so many senior experienced management executives want this done FIRST?

A brand crisis is not in the first instance a communication problem. It is a corporate problem with technical and functional components. 

  
There is a class of vulnerabilities that requires very high-level strategic business decisions to fix at a very high cost. There are others that need localized adjustments at minimum cost. And there are a host of others that fall somewhere in between. All such points of vulnerability are potential ‘crises’. Unfortunately when big brands invest in brand building, they do not spend any money or not enough to audit and track inherent vulnerabilities, or emerging stakeholder concerns or shifts in the social, economic environment where points of stress are created. Each and every one of these points has the potential of pushing the brand into a CRISIS.
 
The role of communication during a brand crisis sits inside a far bigger circle that includes issues such as management culpability, concern with business ethics, concern for consumers, honesty with other stakeholders.
  
Crises can be anticipated. Plans can be made to handle each in a strategic way. Crises that occur through lack of anticipation and are then mismanaged through lack of planning are misfortunes, which a company calls upon itself. Lack of crisis planning constitutes criminal corporate negligence. 
 
Remember the public threshold for tolerance on corporate culpability is narrowing fast and as consumer sophistication grows and the right to information plus the right to a fair exchange of value become entrenched in the general consciousness, companies have to accept that they can get away with almost nothing. The litigant stakeholder is about ready to arrive in India, if she isn’t already here. Moreover the ‘ethical’ consumer has already arrived. Loyalty to brands embroiled in controversy is fast eroding and will soon begin to have impact on sales. 
  
Ironically, in a crisis you have the potential to do two things equally well: completely destroy the reputation you built over years of careful corporate action and articulation or add greater luster to an already bright corporate reputation through saying the right things at the right time. I think we need to recognize, without meaning to sound at all cynical, that in a crisis to be seen to be doing the right thing is as important as to do the right thing. 
  
Most often within an hour of an “adverse” occurrence and even before senior management is fully aware, the media is already on the job of seeking answers to tricky questions. Often what goes into an first holding statement is an insult to even the most gullible. PR professionals contribute to this insult by helping companies write “smart” inanities that are supposed to parry questions and curb curiosity. At the minimum this initial communication must accept, acknowledge and/or state just what has happened and inform about the first set of actions the company has taken.  
 
At the end of the day how engaged we appear to be with the problem that we know affects stakeholder groups, how intelligently we conduct this dialogue between the brand and its well wishers as well as its enemies is the true test of a well managed crisis communication plan. Did we get the benefit of the doubt? Were our explanations accepted?
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