Monday, February 13, 2012

Crisis Management

Bad PR is definitely not something as business owners that we hope to experience. Yet time & time again we see it happen. Perhaps you take an advertising risk in hopes that the public will find humor in it. This is something Groupon is all too familiar with when they launched their 2011 Super Bowl ads making light of deforestation and the rain forest. It could be as simple as a disgruntled former employee spreading gossip or even just that something went wrong that you couldn’t anticipate. These are all possibilities that could generate bad PR. We see this happen to companies all of the time and though at times it is something we didn’t see coming, it certainly is something that every business should be prepared for.

I recently drove past a thriving local delicatessen that places funny signs out front to grab the attention of traffic that passes by. For the past few months the signs have gained some edginess dancing on the line of inappropriate. This particular time the sign wasn’t just dancing the line, in fact it was completely offensive to a large group of people. Within a couple of days the local media caught wind, in turn, making it front page news. What were they thinking? As it turns out, it was an inside joke among employees. This was clearly a circumstance where the joke should have been kept inside the circle among the employees.

More shocking than the offensive sign, was the response the business owner gave to the local paper when questioned about the incident. He stated “go on and write your story, there is no such thing as bad PR”. Well, he was wrong. The once packed parking lot is now empty. Even if the sign wasn’t offensive to all of the customers, many would not want to be seen patronizing the business. Later that week the new sign stated “We are better at making sandwiches than jokes”. Too little too late? Only time will tell.

If this deli had a plan in place for such a situation, perhaps they would not have jumped to their initial reaction so quickly. Bad PR is not always avoidable, but we should be prepared for such circumstances should they occur. In the case of the deli owner, it may have been more beneficial to release a public apology, or even explain to the media that it was one of his employees and that he was investigating the situation to resolve the issue immediately. Some follow up with community interaction would also go a long way with his local customers. Perhaps people might start to think, “they are not so bad after all”.

What is your plan for crisis management? Every business should have one. We never know when or how a situation may arise, but it is never a bad idea to be prepared for the worst case scenario.

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