Five Key Tips For Avoiding A Crisis

Written by Jim Walsh - December 2018

It is often assumed that only large enterprises need to prepare for a crisis hitting the organisation. But the reality is that a crisis can hit a business of any size.

Just look up Miracle Mattress, a small store in San Antonio in Texas. In September 2016 the shop had to close for a time due to the threats and level of online and actual abuse it suffered due to a 20 sec advertisement posted online.

The video shows two men asking a woman about a “Twin Towers” sale. She opens her arms, pushing both men backward into two stacks of mattresses, knocking them over, then she turns to the camera and says: “We’ll never forget.” The advertisement went viral and attracted considerable negative attention, not just in Texas, but throughout the US.

The owner of the company apologised for the advertisement calling it “disrespectful and offensive”. He said that the advertisement was produced without his knowledge and that the employees involved will be held accountable.  He announced that the store would close indefinitely. In fact, it just closed for a week and reopened with “new staff and training.”

Interestingly the same week a WalMart store in Florida withdrew a display of Coke cans stacked to look like the World Trade Center. It wasn’t meant to be disrespectful said the company.

While both incidents were a result of ill-judged action by staff in the respective outlets, the WalMart action was contained in-store and consequently didn’t attract the same public reaction.

A self-inflicted crisis is one of the three ways in which a crisis can most often effect a company. That is when someone makes an error of judgement or does not adhere to company regulations or protocols. The other two ways a crisis can strike is when the company is a victim (blackmail, fraud or product tampering) or is in a conflict situation (IR or M&A issues).

Each situation and the level of public or media interest will determine how the crisis should be handled. And how an issue is handled is vitally important. A mis-managed response can often cause more damage that the issue itself.

Here are 5 key tips to try and ensure that you avoid a crisis:

  1. Ensure that you have a procedure where senior comms or reputation management executives oversee any public utterance or material.
  2. Have a clear company ethos and best-in-class procedures that are understood by everyone in the organisation as well by key stakeholders, and work to build a solid reputation for providing best-in-class products or services. A good reputation can be invaluable when a crisis strikes.
  3. Carry out a risk assessment and regularly review it at senior management level.
  4. Train your spokespeople to represent you with authority and empathy in equal measure and all frontline staff on what to do in communicating information to senior management.
  5. Be wary of a knee-jerk reaction. Establish the facts as quickly as possible and take professional advice from PR and Social Media/Digital experts.

The management of Miracle Mattress may have handled its crisis well by taking responsibility and removing staff away from the vitriol by closing for a few days. It also made substantial donations to 9/11 memorial and victims’ funds.

But if it had better oversight procedures in place, it would not have had to deal with a crisis in the first place.

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