Coping in a Crisis

Even though readers and some journalists are increasingly desperate to see positive news in their paper, you don’t have to turn many pages to see a crisis story. Whether it’s the 79% fall in net profits at Dell, Manchester City Football Club sacking Roberto Mancini as manager, or the Prime Minister ‘losing control of his party over Europe’ according to a former Tory minister. These are very different crises but they all amount to the same thing – negative headlines and stories which could do long-term damage to reputations.

Finding examples of companies who didn’t handle a crisis well, is easy, just search the web and you are faced with plenty of research and case studies on; BlackBerry, BP and Costa Cruises, to name a few. What is a little harder to find are case studies of those who’ve handled a negative situation well but they are out there and a lot can be learned from what they did or didn’t do.

The media trainers’ classic example (which although dated is still held up as an important one to learn from) is Johnson & Johnson and how they dealt with tampering of bottles of Tylenol. In 1982 seven people died after someone added cyanide to bottles of pills, the company acted very fast. All suspected bottles were withdrawn and destroyed (at the cost of around $100 million), the CEO appeared at news conferences and on TV adverts explaining what had happened and the business introduced safer packaging (the first one to do so in the industry). As a result, the company were able to maintain their reputation and their customer base.

Another positive example was Mattel, who in 2007, had to handle two product recalls in two weeks. The CEO took charge; quickly apologising and taking responsibility for the faulty toys. The company literally bombarded the media with alerts and news, to ensure the story got out to their customers and they communicated their responsible attitude to the wider public. The toy maker was widely praised for the way they handled the episode and their reputation was even given a valuable boost as a result.

These examples have a lot in common with others praised in similar case studies; they both show the executives within the company stepping forward as the face of the brand. They take responsibility for what happened and apologise to all their stakeholders. They make sure the news, although potentially damaging to their organisation, gets out to the public. Perhaps most importantly, they act fast, ensuring they control the news flow and agenda, rather than letting others speculate on their problems first.

Having a plan in place, and then having the confidence to follow these steps is vital in tackling a crisis – only the coming days will tell us whether Dell, Manchester City and the Tory party have followed this advice.

Written by Will Edwards – – May 2013

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