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Public relations 101: failing to plan is planning to fail

Three recent brand blunders prove that a strong communications plan for crisis management is important

10 April 2022 - 18:24 By Cara Diener
Today, crisis management is more important than ever.
Today, crisis management is more important than ever.
Image: 123rf

As Albert Einstein once said, in the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity. In some instances, a crisis can provide the opportunity to create positive brand reinforcement and awareness, but in many cases some brands are their own worst enemies. It is for this reason that an issues and crisis strategy should form the bedrock of any brand’s communications plan.

According to the 2019 JOTW Communications Survey, only 59% of communicators have a communications strategy, while a mere 45% have a documented crisis communications plan. Furthermore, PWC’s Global Crisis Survey 2021 suggests that only 62% of business leaders used a crisis plan in their response to the ongoing pandemic. The figures are alarming, particularly given the impact of the pandemic on global business practices and that in today’s digitally driven world anything and everything a brand conveys is placed under a microscope.

The digital influence on crisis management

Today, crisis management is more important than ever, compelling brands to be prepared and respond rapidly to a crisis at any given time. This is particularly important given that research by ConverSocial claims that 37% of consumers who use social media platforms to complain or question brands expect a response in under 30 minutes.

You can’t slap a Band-Aid on it

There are no quick fixes when it comes to crisis recovery. This is evidenced by Deloitte’s Global Crisis Management Report, which indicates that fewer than 30% of c-suite executives who’ve experienced a crisis say their reputations recovered in less than a year, with 16% claiming it took four years or more. Financial and operational crises experienced similar long recovery times. The road to recovery is a long one, with 70% stating that it took more than a year for their corporate reputations to recover.

As one of its most valuable attributes, corporate reputation can make or break a brand for consumers. Here are three recent brand blunders that prove crisis management is important:

Burger King gets it all wrong on Women’s Day 2021

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2021, Burger King’s UK division tweeted that “women belong in the kitchen” followed by two further tweets saying “if they want to, of course”, and then next announcing the fast-food chain’s new scholarship programme aimed at helping women attain a degree in culinary arts and reduce the gender gap in the restaurant industry.

What was meant to capture attention did so, but for the wrong reasons. While the campaign first appeared in print and was interpreted as ironic, using the same direction on social media did not have the same effect. Many ignored the subsequent tweets and fixated on the first, resulting in a backlash for a seemingly sexist statement that resulted in Burger King appearing completely tone-deaf.

The tweet was eventually deleted and an apology was issued. While Burger King hoped the attention would spark interest and support for the scholarship programme, for many the damage was already done.

Volkswagen’s proverbial slap in the face

After Volkswagen’s infamous Dieselgate scandal a few years ago, one would think that the world’s largest automotive manufacturer would tread lightly. Well, think again.

In 2020, the German conglomerate posted a video on Instagram promoting its latest Golf 8, with a giant white hand flicking a black person away from the car and into a restaurant by the name of Petit Colon — French for Little Colonist. Given that Volkswagen was founded in 1937 under the Nazi regime, one would assume that anything race-related would be approached with extreme caution.

What ensued on social media is best described as an uproar, and the advert was swiftly removed and an apology issued. It read: “No one from the team realised that flicking away a person is inappropriate on its own — and racist in the context shown. We should never have made a mistake like that. Neither the agencies nor we. We must apologise for that — with no ifs and buts. And ensure that something like it can never happen again.”

Snapchat gets a bad image

In 2018, social media platform Snapchat ran an advert created by a third party which was modelled after the game “Would You Rather”. Users were asked whether they would rather slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown. While the incident occurred many years prior, in 2009, most hadn’t forgotten about the domestic violence case between Rihanna and her then partner Chris Brown, and neither had she.

After an uproar across the social media sphere, Snapchat was quick to pull the advert and issue an apology. However, the damage was already done. Issuing a statement on Instagram — Snapchat’s rival — Rihanna lambasted the platform, stating that it wasn’t about her own feelings but those of the women, children and men who had fallen victim to domestic violence.

Her sentiments rang true among her following, with company shares dropping almost 5% overnight, and reports indicating that Snapchat lost almost $800m after the incident.

Where to from here?

Marketers need to take notes from the mistakes of others. Always proofing projects and campaigns, not falling out of touch with pressing issues and keeping abreast of current and past events will ensure they don’t become tone-deaf and apathetic.

According to Talkwalker, this can be achieved in seven steps:

  • Prepare a crisis plan with holding statement templates from mocked scenarios;
  • Establish a crisis response team;
  • Get the facts;
  • Accept responsibility and apologise;
  • Choose the right channels for distribution;
  • Communicate your response or plan of action; and
  • Monitor the crisis.

Brands need to partner with the right agency to help them plan — from the media training of key spokespeople to the development of detailed issues and crisis frameworks coupled with in-depth escalation policies, social listening and an internal communications plan for employees, their biggest advocates.

Cara Diener is business unit lead at Eclipse Communications.

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