We live in an age where news travels like wildfire, bad news often more quickly than good. A few years ago when a company tackled a crisis they had to contact TV stations, write letters to main stream media editors and hold press conferences. Today brands are expected to issue a much quicker reaction, harnessing channels like email and social media almost instantly after news of the crisis has broken.
Essentially the principles of crisis communication haven’t changed, but nowadays the key to surviving an online crisis is a well thought out, speedy response via the appropriate channels.
The recent horse meat scandal is an absolute PR nightmare for those named and shamed, but how are the parties tied up in the disgrace dealing with this crisis?
Jonathan Hemus, Director at Insignia comms says that Findus, the first brand to find itself in the firing line, didn’t seem to have ‘prepared properly for such a situation. Jonathan notes that ‘for the first couple of days after the crisis broke its website remained virtually unchanged, with only a hastily inserted statement dropped on to its homepage’.
Even worse, says Jonathan is the fact that ‘Findus’s homepage proudly proclaimed that it used “only the best ingredients” and another page exclaimed “you can trust us” alongside a picture of a “beef” lasagne’. On a normal day, he says, ‘these messages would be fine. Under the circumstances, they looked hollow, unprofessional, or even bad taste jokes’.
What about the retailers?
Jonathan notes that the retailers have actually fared far better in their crisis communication highlighting Tesco’s immediate product recall and full page newspaper advertisements saying “we’re sorry” and Waitrose’s well engineered crisis management email which you can read here.
The power of email:
Waitrose also understands the value of reputation and its latest email (pictured left) to customers from managing director Mark Price ‘ticks all of the crisis communication boxes’ says Jonathan.
Jonathan says that the email from Waitrose ‘demonstrates pro-activity in communication’ adding that ‘rather than waiting for customer enquiries Waitrose has taken the initiative by issuing the mail and showing that it cares’.
Secondly, ‘the fact that it comes from Waitrose’s managing director demonstrates senior commitment and interest’.
Jonathan notes that above all, ‘the messaging is spot on’. He says that the email cleverly ‘outlines the facts as regards Waitrose products’ which is imperative because ‘crises always generate a mass of speculation and rumour, so getting the facts straight is the first challenge for any business’.
The email then goes onto talk about the immediate actions they are taking, ‘demonstrating professionalism and responsibility’ by including ‘a full, no questions asked refund’.
What’s perhaps most noticeable about Waitrose’s email is the fact that they turn ‘crisis into opportunity not only by reaffirming its commitment to British farmers and produce, but also by announcing the launch of a new range of Waitrose branded British sourced beef products’. Jonathan says that ‘this is a masterstroke and shows that with a responsive and sensitive approach, opportunity can arise out of crisis.’
Another key strength of this email is the fact that, as Jonathan notes, ‘Mr Price signs off with an invitation for customers to call a dedicated hotline with any additional questions. Keeping communication channels open’.
As a result of this timely email correspondence to Waitrose’s database, Jonathan believes that they have demonstrated that they ‘understand the value of reputation and customer loyalty’, adding that both Tesco and Waitrose ‘have risen to the challenge, both seeming likely to emerge with their reputations intact as a result of their very effective crisis communication’.
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