I started sketching this cartoon weeks ago after hearing that Carnival offered a voucher for 30% off future cruises to passengers of the Costa Condordia. Coincidentally this was before last week’s dramatic blunders of Susan G Komen for the Cure.
PR crises are nothing new. The field of crisis management originated with the environmental and industrial disasters of the 1980’s (Exxon Valdez, Tylenol). But they are more acute than ever thanks to social media. How a brand handles itself in a crisis is a far greater litmus test of what the brand stands for than any mission statement it writes or marketing plan it executes.
Most brands won’t face a PR disaster at the same scale of a sinking ship or rebuke from Senators. But every brand does face crisis: an ad that offends, a product malfunction, a spokesperson caught in an infidelity scandal.
Brand teams should spend time thinking about how they would handle a crisis, large or small. Marketers can’t plan for every single thing that could go wrong, but they should establish ground rules. And make sure that they have the right team in place. Waiting until a crisis happens is too late.
I like the perspective of Jason Fried, co-founder of 37signals. In an Inc. magazine column last year, he detailed how 37signals handled a product disaster, mainly by being human.
“I’ve been a customer of companies that don’t know how to respond to a crisis. These outfits don’t own up to the problem. They hedge, they tiptoe, they get their PR departments to issue abstract nonapology apologies.”
“People don’t judge you on the basis of your mistakes—they judge you on the manner in which you own up to them. In my experience, most companies do a terrible job of taking blame. They lob press releases. Or they apologize for the inconvenience. Resist that temptation and say you’re sorry like you’re apologizing to a friend. Be good—and your customers will be good right back to you.”
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post. I’ll pick one comment by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)