For businesses hoping to recover from an image-throttling scandal, time is of the essence. Whether a top executive embezzles millions or an operating manager’s mistake causes a chemical spill that threatens the safety of employees, damage control is in order.
“News spreads so fast, our advice is to get out ahead of that,” said Andrew Stanten, president of Altitude Marketing in Emmaus.
Failing that, it pays to be honest.
“Make yourself available and willing to speak the truth about what’s going on,” said Stanten.
The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast proved to be an example of what not to do, as executives shifted blame and did not take the responsibility to respond and acknowledge their role in the disaster until a couple of weeks after it occurred, said Stanten.
Companies should act quickly to make amends, detail steps on how to improve and give confidence back to clients, said Stanten.
“It’s going to show that there’s a human side to the company,” he said. “Try to give them the assurance that it truly was a one-time incident.”
Doing so goes a long way toward shaping the public’s perception of the company and in some cases can allow companies to develop better products. As examples, the Tylenol poisoning scare in the 1980s prompted the pharmaceutical company that produced the product to create tamper-proof packaging, and when Firestone’s tires began exploding in the 2000s, the company replaced the faulty tires with a stronger material.
“The public can be forgiving if you are honest about it,” said Stanten.
Both big and small companies need a crisis communication plan in place, he added. This plan would outline who addresses the media, when, through what methods and when to tell employees about the incident.
With no shortage of channels to share information, whether through emails, Facebook or Twitter feeds, the rumor mill has more ammo than ever, making it crucial for companies to address the incidents immediately to continue operating their business and restore their corporate image.
“It’s disconcerting to see how many businesses don’t have that plan in place,” said Matt Brannon, public relations account supervisor for Stiegler Wells Brunswick & Roth, an advertising agency in Bethlehem.
When a crisis strikes, management is under pressure, and having a plan in place helps streamline the process so leaders know what to do, said Brannon.
Not only should employers know what kind of medium to use for delivering messages, but how to alter the message for different audiences, such as customers, employees or shareholders.
As part of a crisis management plan, pre-written messages can be developed in some cases so companies can look ahead and foresee potential mishaps before they occur.
Timing is critical, and while companies should respond as soon as possible, Brannon said leaders can make the mistake of doing it too quickly with no preparation.
“Some companies are going to have more of a need for it than others,” said Brannon.