Marketing in a crisis – 5 steps to take

What should the marketing team do when a crisis hits that is external to your organisation? World events are outside of our control, but it is the marketing and communications team’s responsibility to act when a crisis hits.

This week with the horrific bombs in Boston it reminded me of occasions when I have had to respond to a crisis, which prompted me to write this blog post.  Recent examples from the world of advertising and media include Fox removing an episode of Family Guy from their website which could cause offence, Nike pulling their Oscar Pistorius adverts following his arrest, and Barclays pulling their advertising in the wake of the Libor scandal.

Whether the events are concerning your own organisation or external there are some essential steps that the marketing and communications team need to take. Unfortunately there are always natural or man-made crises that occur, so it pays to be ready to respond appropriately.

1. Review all current activity planned and booked

Starting with any activity that is live – review it to ensure that it is not likely to cause offense or be inappropriate given recent events. Consider the creative used, the copy, phrases used, your media choice etc. I once had a live campaign promoting leisure rail travel using the phrase ‘shops to die for’ when a rail crash resulted in fatalities. I did everything I could to get that campaign erased in case it caused offence.

Check your website – is there anything on there that could be inappropriate? Review your social media presence and don’t forget to review any scheduled messages, as the Daily Mirror have learned this week.

2. Form a crisis response team

Hopefully your organisation already has a crisis management team or draft contingency plan in place. If not, pull together a representative from all relevant areas – PR, customer communications and any operational areas that may need to be involved.  The benefit of cross working is that each area will have a slightly different perspective and raise new perspectives that will help you define an appropriate response.  Many of the actions may be practical steps to be taken internally, but inevitably there will be a communications angle that needs to be owned and delivered.

Do other teams around the organisation need manpower to support them? If your team can spare a few people to help answer the phones or be present on location then that is a great way to help customers and build internal bonds at the same time. I’ve done this myself many times and have always gained personally from the experience as well as providing a useful service to colleagues and customers.

3. Focus on customer information

Fast and accurate information is essential when the unexpected occurs. Brief but informative communications will go a long way to assisting any customers or stakeholders during a crisis.  Make use of immediate tools such as your company website, social media profiles, and PR contacts to issue information as appropriate. Email your customers and suppliers with information if necessary.

The tone of communication is critical at times of crisis – aim for humility and helpfulness.  Keep your organisation and its role in perspective. How important is it to sell widgets when there is a crisis in hand?!

Now’s not the time to cling desperately to creative brand values and the quality of paper you are using. Customers don’t care how glossy your leaflet is – they just want the right information at the right time.

4. Agree on a proactive communications strategy

Would your organisation benefit from a pro-active communications strategy in light of events? Tescos obviously felt so when they took out full page ads regarding the horse meat scandal.

Take care to get the tone and message right – no-one wants to hear about your organisation when there are bigger issues at stake.

5. Communicate internally

Once steps have been taken to review existing campaigns and plan new activity take the time to communicate what has been done internally. Colleagues across the organisation, not only your senior team, will want to know how you are responding to events.  Write clear, concise emails that spell out the steps that are being taken and when to expect a further update.  I’ve found that this is hugely appreciated and also avoids receiving a multitude of enquiries which could take up precious crisis-management time.

Marketing in a global village

Marketing and communications play a vital role in providing information at times of crisis. Given the immediacy of events regardless of where they occur there is every chance that customers and employees are personally affected by what has happened. It is essential that every marketing and communications professional is sensitive to and responds appropriately to events happening around us.

Roisin Kirby is an experienced Marketing Consultant based in Nottingham (UK), with experience spanning a range of service industries, particularly the education and travel sectors.

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Filed under Advertising, Branding, Digital, Marketing, Social media, Strategy, Travel and Tourism

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