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Crisis PR: The good, the bad and the ugly

July 2020

Reading time: 3 minute(s).

If you had to compare your company’s PR operation to a drink, what would it be?

Perhaps an alcopop fizzing full of creative chemistry? Maybe a sleek and sophisticated glass of champagne that oozes corporate class? But, in times of trouble, we need to reach for that great bastion of British resolve, the humble cup of tea.

Unlike the others, the good old teabag finds itself getting stronger when it’s in hot water. And you should too. Everything is better with a cup of tea, and that includes PR.

When an organisation faces a crisis, we see what its leaders are really made of.

Whatever the scenario, whether it’s a severe shortage of resources or an unforeseen challenge that threatens your reputational standing – your company’s strengths, character and values, are laid bare for all to see.

It is imperative that you respond promptly and effectively to convey a clear sense of direction that addresses the problem. Communications to staff, customers and clients at such a time can be make-or-break moments for your organisation. So let’s get it right.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen literally millions of companies around the world presented with a crisis comms challenge on a scale we’ve never seen before. Some have nailed it, while others have got it horribly, horribly wrong.

The Good

Those companies who have responded best during the outbreak have been those who have handled it with humanity, showing that they are people too. The mantra of ‘we’re all in this together’ has never been more true and those brands who have done their bit to help the collective fight have come out of this with their reputations not only intact but enhanced.

We loved IKEA’s flatpack recipe card showing you how to make their famous meatballs at home, Brewdog’s quick-as-a-flash switch into producing hand sanitiser was a masterstroke and we enjoyed seeing all those small independent restaurants and food producers showcasing their creativity to transform into takeaways and delivery services, using social media so effectively to reach new customers in their communities.

The Bad

It doesn’t take a lot to do the basics in such a situation. Simple ‘we’re here for you’ messages, reassurances that you are doing all you can to support your staff and clear guidance as to the level of service you’re able to offer. As a business, that’s all people ask of you. But for some, even that was too much. The silence from certain companies was deafening and prompted far more questions than it did answers.

Even worse was those companies who carried on as normal, ignoring the world burning around them to fire out their regular corporate emails, demands for money and sales messaging.

Read the room guys, read the room…

The Ugly

At the peak of the pandemic, certain sections of the travel industry was rightly under fire for their handling of the crisis. With holidays around the world cancelled, tourists quite rightly demanded their money back, and quickly.

Some companies acted correctly, issuing swift refunds for the full amount of the booking. Others decided to keep hold of customers’ cash for as long as possible, initially refusing to issue any rebate or preferring to offer only a credit note towards a future booking. This was a particularly bad look at a time when companies needed to put the needs of society above those of their own.

It might have allowed them to ease any immediate cash flow concerns they may have had but the long-term damage to their brand is incalculable.

Final Thought

Showing a lack of empathy or persisting with overly corporate brand communication isn’t advisable at the best of times, but during a global pandemic it can be a real customer loyalty killer.

When we eventually get back to normal and customers are spending again, will they stick with the firms that spurned them in their hour of need or will they move on to another company?

What would Strand PR suggest?

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July 2020 | Laura Pearce