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The importance of crisis comms

We are Mobas. The Brand Transformation Agency.

Last year’s KFC chicken shortage could have been disastrous (indeed many devoted fried chicken fans thought it was at the time) and yet it threw up a golden opportunity for the brand’s PR and marketing team who quickly took charge of the situation and, crucially, took responsibility for the FCK-up. Head of PR Amanda Bunn takes a look at the importance of crisis communications when things go wrong.

Communicating honestly, with humour and humility, resulted not only in forgiveness from their loyal customer following but a huge increase in brand awareness, including total brand reach for the initial press ad in excess of one billion. Oh, and one silver and three gold Lions in Cannes (the global benchmark for effective creative marketing communications).

By definition, a crisis is going to be unexpected and, whatever business you’re in, it can strike at any time. But the majority of crises aren’t unforeseeable – you just need to have spent some time thinking about what might happen from multiple angles and prepare accordingly.

It might be a data breach, or an event cancelled by bad weather (quite likely in the UK!), maybe a defective product (or one that’s being dangerously misused), or any other of a multitude of possibilities.

What’s important is to have a plan in place to cover those eventualities or be able to adapt swiftly to cover any that haven’t been identified in advance. While the crisis itself can happen in seconds, it takes time to create that plan, which is where working with PR professionals can really help you to consider all of the key points.  

  • Use your imagination – to successfully anticipate as many crises as possible, list out all of the scenarios you can think of, even the ones that seem really unlikely. Encourage co-workers at all levels to do the same, especially the ones that spend the most time in customer-facing roles.
  • Identify key people – who will be in charge and who will be your spokesperson (not necessarily one and the same). It’s definitely worth identifying a reserve spokesperson too. By identifying them now, you’ve got time to make sure that they’re fully on-message and comfortable in front of a mic or camera, with some media training which could make all the difference if and when a crisis hits.
  • Brand voice – you may well already have an established tone of voice for your brand, that’s used across various communications channels. Your crisis comms voice should emulate this but may need to be tweaked to ensure that it speaks with the appropriate tone. • Internal and external messaging – your staff will also need to be kept up to speed during a crisis and there’s likely to be quite a difference in the information that you share with the two groups.
  • People power – you may well need extra hands on deck to implement the detail of your crisis comms plan, to man the phones or respond to tweets and DMs as well as arrange any reparation (rebooking event tickets, sending out replacement products, etc.). • Delivery – how will you communicate? Individual phone calls? Social media? (Although beware: this may actually make the situation worse).
  • Don’t forget the washing-up – a live crisis is a great learning opportunity. Make sure that all those involved are given the opportunity to feed back as early as possible, so that improvements can be built into the plan for the future.

Of course, in an ideal world you’ll never need to follow your plan, but there are no guarantees. What is a certainty is that if you forgo any kind of crisis planning, your business is likely to suffer significantly should the worst happen. If this article has got you thinking about your own crisis comms, talk to the team at Mobas today. You can reach us at say.hello@mobas.com or +44 (0)1223 841699.

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