How Not to Manage a Brand Crisis

By Mash Bonigala

All brands falter now and again, even stylish and elegant brands. It depends on the mistake, but most negative situations can still be salvaged. Sometimes, however, a business compounds the errors and turns an entirely recoverable problem into a death spiral. Unchecked, these additional errors could lead to lawsuits, a bad image, or even closure of the company.

If you want to protect yourself in a crisis, here is a list of things not to do:

Drag Your Feet

The key to any crisis is swift and decisive action. Every moment that goes by without some sort of controlling action on your part is an opportunity for the situation to escalate. Wait too long, and things may become too much to handle. “Crisis” doesn’t necessarily mean “immediate”, either. There have been situations where a problem has been called to the organization’s attention and swept under the rug, only to have it blow up in their faces after a long period of quiet.

Cut off Communication

Brand crises sometimes trigger a media circus, with both customers and reporters calling you for a statement or even to acknowledge the problem. When this happens to you, don’t shut them out. As painful as facing the public might be, they’re actually giving you an opportunity to tell your side of the story: to defend yourself, explain the situation, and make it right. Cut them off, and they’re going to fill in the blanks themselves—most likely with unflattering remarks. Your brand manager should be the friendly face that continues the communication.

Talk Around the Problem

When you do step to the podium and talk to the public, they will be expecting you to address the situation at hand. Don’t hedge and speak of issues unrelated to the problem—even if you (wrongly) attribute it to them, the public is smarter than you think. They’ll know that you’re attempting to misdirect them by casting blame or attention on something else. In trying to protect your image, you’re actually dealing it more damage.

Act without Thinking

I’ve worked with managers who pride themselves on “off-the-cuff” thinking and “spur of the moment” action, but in a crisis that’s the last thing you want to be doing. Flippant remarks have a way of backfiring at the speaker, and if that happens to be the company president or some other highly placed employee, then the company’s image has just been dunked in the toilet. Likewise, issuing statements without supporting evidence will land you in trouble after people start checking your facts. The same applies to any remedial actions you make. Be sure you understand the source of the problem before you do anything, otherwise your efforts will be ineffective and look half-hearted.

Don’t Have a Plan

Do you know what happens when you don’t have a plan? People panic and stumble around blindly. Efforts aren’t coordinated and teams get in each other’s way. An already difficult situation is made even worse because the clock is ticking while an organization is still trying to figure out what is happening—much less what to do.

Plans help mitigate this by anticipating certain scenarios and drafting up a set of procedures to guide people through the initial moment of panic. Granted, you can’t plan for everything, but a good plan can easily be adapted to other purposes.