Brand Management During Times of Crisis

Earlier this month, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) organized a conference that brought together some of Canada’s top communicators from both the public and private industry to Ottawa, Canada.

In particular, there were two breakout sessions that really evoked my interest: “Reputation Management in The Age of Social Media” by Martha Muzychka from Praxis Communications and the second, “Communicating During Times of Crisis” by Anick Losier of Canada Post. What was truly thought provoking about these two presentations was that they seemed to be advocating completely different responses when faced with the same crisis.

A major take away point for me from Martha’s lecture was that it is very important to have a crisis communications plan in case of…well…crises! On the other hand, Anick seemed to be advocating that you shouldn’t have a crisis plan on standby. So what’s the deal? We have two of the top brand managers in the industry saying completely opposite things at the same conference! I mean, someone has to be wrong, right? Not necessarily.

The thing about communications and brand management, in general, is that it is both an art and a science. It is an art, in that a primary focus is on how to deal with people, their emotions and perspectives in an often times chaotic environment where there are so many random variables that you cannot reasonably assume to be prepared for. But it is a science, in a sense that to every marketing and communications strategy, there are fundamental steps and procedures to be taken in order to maximize reach and effectiveness through public relations and an engagement strategy.

Let me clarify. What Martha and Anick had in common was their mutual advocacy for the following minimum components to be on hand before a crisis hits:

Contact information for media reporters
Clear line of communications with respect to who to talk to, within your team, the moment a crisis happens
Clear guidelines for how soon the team should get together and how to talk things out
Martha deals with a lot of not-for-profit organizations and she understands the importance of brand and reputation management for an NGO’s survival. Martha’s strategy stems from first identifying potential threats, such as regulatory issues, donor issues, corporate wrong doing, and privacy breaches. She then develops an action plan for each scenario with pre-drafted content that will include core messages. This is a great way to put the client at ease and to reduce the amount of potential stress that the client and Martha may face if a crisis were to happen. The client organization will have a clearer picture of what to do and would thus be able to act more decisively.

Anick, on the other hand, took quite a different approach. She is the director of media relations for Canada post and has been doing a tremendous job managing Canada Post’s brand reputation

during rough times. Anick stated that she would much rather not have a crisis communications plan. Her reasoning revolved around the lack of control of what is going to happen. The notion of planning pre-defined responses can never anticipate the number of variables that often impinge and shape a crisis. In other words, when you are an organization that hires over 60,000 employees, there are just too many random variables to think of in defining a crisis plan. Anick has the basic information for a crisis plan but she also has a solid team that is able to deal with all the variables at play.

So what is the right strategy to go with? There is no correct answer, or maybe I should say that there is no wrong answer. What one needs to do beforehand is to develop a strong understanding of your organization, the industry space you work in, and your team. Understanding your internal readiness and capabilities to deal with crises is even more important – in many ways – than the static or dynamic actions that are taken after a crisis hits. Whatever your crisis plan is (or is not), it has to be rooted in a profound understanding of your strengths and your environment. It is a 24/7 job in which you and your team will always have to be ready to take action whether it is at 12:00pm or 3:00am because that one slip may make or break your company.

Gnowit, with a brand reputation monitoring platform, alerts the user and keeps them updated in real time.