Friday, 14 October 2011

When communicating in a crisis, be fast, be first and be honest

CEO of Liquid PR Elisabeth Lewis-Jones

 If you’re in a crisis, ensure your message is the one that's heard

-        Susceptible food, drink and agricultural sector takes heed of crisis communications advice
-        Don’t underestimate the power of the internet; online complaints can quickly turn into headline news
-        When communicating in a crisis, be fast, be first and be honest

London, 14 October: The farming and agriculture industry is highly susceptible to issues where they have little or no control: from disease to climate control. In a presentation given to The Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Food, Drink and Agriculture Group (CIM FDA Group), speakers explained how successful crisis and issues management can be the difference between stopping external events affecting your business and allowing them to escalate from an issue to a crisis.

Crisis management has become an important part of any business plan, dictating whether your business can survive or thrive if a crisis hits. In a 24 hour media world any business not planning to manage a crisis is likely to be planning to be a victim of crisis events, delegates at the event heard.
To ensure a business is protected in a crisis, the business must be proactive, advised Delia Goldsby, Digital PR consultant, Freestyle Interactive, advising that the business must constantly monitor the news and communicate their message to ensure any crisis situation does not quickly spiral out of control.
She continued, “Scenario planning for an issue or a crisis will allow businesses to be able to react at the crucial moment; in turn, this will strengthen brand perception, reinforce consumer relations and help to make any business stronger in the aftermath of a crisis.”
During the FDA event, speakers compared the explosion of negative media Dr Pepper experienced after a misguided Facebook campaign and the successful approach taken by Topman after it caused controversy with ironic t-shirt slogans. Goldsby’s colleague at Freestyle Interactive, Andy Wood argued, “Topman’s success came from its ability to react quickly to the news. As a result, the Topman message was put out quickly ensuring attention turned away from the spark of negative social media created by the t-shirt slogans and focused on their fast and effective response to the campaign.”
“The danger is,” Goldsby explained, “by not taking ownership and engaging early on, you can fan the flames of consumer anger by distancing from the cause.”
Speaking before Goldsby, Elisabeth Lewis Jones, CEO Liquid, highlighted the importance of fast and effective communication, “Knowing the issues that really matter to your customer remains any businesses’ most important asset, especially in a crisis. Safety initially sparked the concerns of the public during the BSE crisis. However, once customers had been reassured by the action taken to ensure the farming industry was safe the British public remained willing to buy British beef. The largest factor then effecting beef sales became price; when prices dropped supermarket shelves were cleared.”
Lewis-Jones laid out actions for successfully managing a crisis:
·         Reacting to stakeholder and consumer concerns is paramount
·         Make sure people are hearing the message you want them to; they won’t if you don’t say anything
·         Your message must be clear, concise and simple
·         To retain trust you must address the issue, respond truthfully and leave the consumer reassured by the reaction
Goldsby concluded, “In a 24 hour media world time is precious and every word counts. Now more than ever it is important to know your audience, monitor your brand and ensure crises are dealt with swiftly and effectively. When a crisis hits your business you must already know what your response should be – because if you are unsure how to react in a crisis your response will always be chasing events, failing to communicate effectively with the press, the social media and your potential consumers.”
About The Chartered Institute of Marketing
The Chartered Institute of Marketing is the leading international professional marketing body with members worldwide. First established in 1911 it defines the marketing standards that operate in the UK and is the global champion of best marketing practice. The Institute exists to develop the marketing profession, maintain professional standards and improve the skills of marketing practitioners, enabling them to deliver exceptional results for their organisations. It does this by providing membership, qualifications and training to marketing professionals and businesses around the world. Visit for more information.

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