How to survive a crisis comms situation

As all PR and marketing pros know, not all publicity is good publicity. And unfortunately, every once in a while, a business may get itself into hot water and have to navigate a particularly difficult situation. That’s just the relatively small stuff, where minor errors in judgement unwittingly backfire and must be addressed. Then there’s the big, stinky stuff – the scandals that erupt and escalate when a brand not only gets something very wrong but questions are also raised as to whether it knowingly mislead its customers. As we’ve seen with the recent Volkswagen’s emissions crisis, scandals make headlines and can have a big and long-term impact on a business’ reputation.

Crises come in a number of forms and guises, all of which require a bespoke set of crisis comms response tactics. Whilst there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, there are clear strategic approaches to adhere to in order to ensure that your business is prepared for whatever comes your way.

Prepare a plan of action

Where crisis comms is concerned, you can never be too prepared, and responding to a crisis is much easier if you already have a general crisis plan in place ahead of time. This will give you an important platform to work from if the proverbial hits the fan. More importantly, it will set out who is responsible for what action during a crisis.

Before you are caught off-guard, make sure you do a thorough risk-assessment review of worst-case scenarios for your business and outline everything that could possibly go wrong. Then, you can begin to think about how you can minimise the chances of these scandals and what you’ll do if they do occur. Once you have this background in place you can devise a PR strategy that clearly lays out everyone’s responsibilities and actions in the event of a particular crisis. It’s vital to identify your key spokespeople and ensure they have professional media training to handle interviews (if needed), with the necessary balance of authority, confidence and integrity.

Keep calm and carry on

When a crisis breaks, it’s important not to go into panic mode. The first step should be to gather as much information as possible regarding the situation, and speak to the people who are closest to the problem as well as your legal team. Most importantly, you want to avoid going public with false information or getting caught off-guard if important details come to light later on. Prepare a holding statement and release updates as information comes to light on your website with contact details.

Another thing to remember is not to leave your employees in the lurch. Your members of staff are likely to be at the frontline of a crisis, particularly where consumers are concerned, and need to be prepared just as much as C-level execs. Make sure they are aware of your key response messages and know who to direct press enquiries to in case that tricky journalist comes calling.

Pants on fire

Transparency can be a useful tool in maintaining a crisis situation. Unfortunately, there may come a time when your company makes a mistake, and sometimes the best course of action is simply to hold your hands up and apologise. You don’t want to admit any responsibility unless necessary, as it may affect your legal position. Of course, there will always be a balance between playing it straight and revealing every sordid detail. However in some cases, getting the honest basics out there will give you a better platform to manage the situation from – and recoup some credibility. Your apology should be backed up with clear details about how your business will resolve the matter, prevent it from happening in future and how your customers will be compensated – as appropriate.

We are working in an age where customer service is king, and now more than ever, businesses need to be seen to be empathetic to the consumer – and honest! To err is human, and you may well find your customers are more forgiving of an openly apologetic business than a two-faced corporation.

Getting a handle on social media

One of the most difficult aspects in handling a crisis can be how to get a grip on the conversations happening on social media. Social media platforms have fundamentally changed crisis management and can have a huge impact on how the story is told. More importantly, the speed at which a story can break is much faster.

Make sure you have a good presence on key social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, so you can monitor the conversation around your crisis and share public updates in real-time.


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#EpicFail: Secret Cinema takes secrecy too far


Looks like it’s back to the drawing board for Secret Cinema, which is reeling from the repercussions of its 11th hour cancellation of Back to the Future –  its biggest and most highly anticipated event to date.

To the horror of fans and guests, some of whom had travelled from as far as the US for the opening event last Friday, the cancellation of said event was also a well-kept secret. Customers were notified of the cancellation on Secret Cinema’s Facebook page a mere 90 minutes before the iconic 80s outdoor movie event was due to start.

Screenings this week have now been cancelled till further notice.

According to the event organiser, Fabien Riggall, the reasons behind the cancellation were a “very complicated myriad series of challenges.”

Unsurprisingly, legions of disappointed and angry customers, who had paid at least £53 per ticket, took to social media to vent their wrath – kicking up a viral storm. Failure to jump on this with a meaningful response turned a social media fail into a more epic fail in crisis management. The information given by the event organisers was not sufficient to reassure their customers. To add salt to the wound, a promise to issue a second statement at 11am the following day was not met, enraging customers further. In terms of compensation, customers were offered either a full refund or an alternative date from mid-August onwards, which doesn’t work for the majority that already have plans in August or who have travelled from outside of London.

Rufus Hound, on the other hand, was quick to turn bad news into good – he offered Secret Cinema ticket holders the chance to see his show Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy Theatre for free! However, it is surprising that more event organisers didn’t jump on the bandwagon to attract visitors with alternative offers:

Rufus Hound tweet

As thousands of mocking tweets about the cancelled event come flooding in (still)… here are a few that made us giggle:

Funny secret cinema tweets

Secret Cinema is yet another reminder of the investment organisations must make in crisis management and communications. The saying “no news is good news” does not apply to customers who deserve an explanation as to why they cannot attend an event and news on what will happen next. Keeping your customers in the loop is essential to good customer service and social media should help rather than hinder the situation. Fingers crossed that current ticket holders will get full reimbursement and compensation for the disruption.

Back to the future: Do you think that Secret Cinema will be able to recover from this..?

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onechocolate loves…

Our weekly round-up of the most inspiring PR and digital marketing campaigns, smart new apps, cool events, ventures and happenings that have caught our eye…

#1 #LikeAGirl

If you’ve ever felt embarrassed or enraged by some loud-mouth who’s said you ‘run like a girl’ or ‘throw like a girl,’ Always’ latest ad campaign is sure to raise a cheer. Shot by Lauren Greenfield, it attempts to change the negative connotations associated with the phrase ‘Like a Girl,’ in order to empower young women. The video, using the hashtag #LikeAGirl, has gone viral – racking up around 37,000,000 YouTube views in just a few weeks. A truly great, emotively powerful campaign from Always, which is designed to resonate with men and women alike.

#2 Model behaviour

Brands just can’t seem to resist jumping on the selfie bandwagon. But in capitalising on the craze that’s showing no signs of letting up, fashion brand Marc Jacobs gets our thumbs up for stylish customer relations. The stars of Marc Jacobs’ new campaign were found through a selfie contest on Instagram and Twitter, with the hashtag #castmemarc. A great way to reward fans for their social media engagement!

#3 Doh!

Angry Homer

Yet another story of poor customer service went viral this week when Ryan Block, a technology journalist who works for AOL, wanted to cancel his broadband service with Comcast. However, when Ryan rang up to cancel, an embarrassing, awkward, infuriating conversation ensued in which the customer service representative repeatedly asks “Why is it that you don’t want faster speeds?” “Help me understand why you don’t want faster internet.” Block shared the audio with his 82,000 Twitter followers; the clip soon went viral and had 4 million plays within two days.

This serves as a reminder of the blurred lines between marketing and customer service. As rising numbers of consumers make purchasing decisions through word of mouth and the power of social media increases, it’s more pressing than ever that emphasis is put on customer care and brand reputation.

#4  Free falling with IKEA

Ikea bed

Applause for best creative of the week goes to this new IKEA advert. We love the way it takes the classic dream of falling to the next level. It captures a woman falling from bed to bed through the clouds, skydiving without a parachute. Although not the safest bedtime activity, Juan Cabral has pulled off a breathtaking and captivating ad from start to finish. Not only has he created a dreamlike quality, the beds look super comfortable too!

#5 The Snapchat phenomenon 

Snapchat World Cup

It was interesting to see Snapchat give its users a glimpse of World Cup final day before it happened, through the ‘Our Story’ feature which was launched last October. We’ve spotted this trend with brands showcasing ‘behind-the-scenes’ snaps, especially in gaming, and we’re looking forward to the B2B marketing folk getting in on the action, too! It was also nice to see the images were crowd-sourced, another evolving trend to keep an eye on.

#6 Cheap social media tricks

Social media icons drawn

Are you running your social media on a shoestring? Then 7 social media tricks you might not know about from PR Daily is the must-read for you! It contains some handy tips to have up your sleeve including; how to customise your business’s branding on Twitter; using Pinterest to find new customers; and how to show off positive customer feedback on Facebook – perfect if you’re looking for ways to subtly improve your brand’s social media on no budget!



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Is omnichannel key to your social media PR strategy?

Our transformation into a mobile media society keeps on accelerating. Last week, the BBC reported an increase of 46.5 percent in UK smartphone sales since last year. What’s more, as a PR agency that’s passionate about social media, we weren’t surprised to see that there are as many as 24 million Britons logging onto Facebook every day, and 80 percent of them are accessing the social networking site via their smartphone or tablet.

In order for brands to stay relevant and offer the very best in customer service, they need to be offering a consistent level of experience across the board – from increasingly vital social media and mobile channels to traditional communication streams. This is where the so-called ‘omnichannel customer experience’ comes into play, aligned to how consumers want to be able to use all available channels at the same time.

social media PR agency

A recent CIPR blog post discussed the need for uniformity across consumer channels. Firstly, it rightly stated that personality is key to your social media strategy. However, when it comes to customer issues, if your back office customer service team don’t have the goods to support this and actually resolve reported issues, then you’ll start to rapidly lose any credibility you’ve built up with your customers using social.

An omnichannel approach to customer experience will become ever more critical. We are only at the beginning of a major demographic change in customer behaviour. So far the Millennial Generation, aka ‘Generation Y’, has driven this first major use of social media. But, it’s their children who’ll be taking control next and there’s no doubt that they will be even more demanding of how social a brand or vendor is. As PR professionals, we can play a vital role in how brands take action now. We can help them to ensure they’re covering all bases in delivering a consistently high level of customer experience by using our in-depth knowledge of social media platforms to offer high-level strategic advice.

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Creating the Modern Holiday in the Era of Web 2.0

As the holiday season kicks into full swing a question popped into my mind: ‘what impact has the digital age had on our behaviour when it comes to choosing a holiday?’

10 years ago you probably would have gone to your local travel agent or searched Teletext TV to book a holiday. However, with the explosion of the digital age and internet accessible on the move i.e. by 2015, 9 out of 10 consumers will have a mobile smartphone subscription, it is not surprising that we are now using different modes of technology to communicate two-way conversations with other like-minded travellers.

Take for example, if I wanted to travel to Rome, Italy the logical thing to do would be to search comparison sites to find the cheapest air deal, then venture onto TripAdvisor to find a selection of hotels which meet my budget. Next, sit back and filter through travellers reviews until I found the right one. Then maybe post on Facebook, twitter or forums asking anyone if they have been to the area and any good tips as to what to do there.

This method is currently used most when booking the modern holiday. But this growing trend is shaking up the holiday industry; what people are now calling ‘holiday 2.0’  is catching on and encouraging entrepreneurs to come up with a range of social sites, whereby individuals can share their holiday experience and their homes, opening up the new personal, transparent and trustworthy holiday experience.

Firstly you have Airbnb (now worth $1billion), which allows you to find a home or room to rent for the week; users update their profile making the experience more personal and trustworthy with reviews. Mainly picking up momentum with the young (65% under 35), it’s a great way for you to meet, travel and make new friends and to experience the city in a more cultural way. Another, Triptrotting has become a global success whereby people meet up with other travellers and share the best activities and tours for their holiday.

So why are people choosing social travel sites such as Airbnb?

  1. It is cheaper
  2. People are fed up with over expensive hotels which are detached from the culture of the area they are in
  3. A way for solo travellers to connect with friends and locals they have just met and from there, customise their travel plans
  4. People are getting fed up believing the marketing ploys of certain hotels and are more likely to trust individuals who have been there and experienced the holiday

From a PR perspective it is important that hotel brands turn the phenomena of Web 2.0 to their own advantage.  To do this, companies need to adapt business models to become digital focused and have social media plans in place for every step of the holiday 2.0 journey.  The key to success is in three steps: listen, engage and be transparent when communicating messages to customers. Only then will you succeed in being a trustful and respected presence amongst the new ‘holiday 2.0’ consumer.

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