Preparation is the key for your brand in the face of a storm, says Steve Dunne, executive chairman of the Brighter Group
The news of the attack in Berlin, the inquests into the murdered tourists in Sousse, the almost daily reports of terrorist attacks around the globe – all are a constant reminder to consumers that we live in dangerous times.
But, for many companies in travel, those headline incidents, while tragic, can seem some distance away from everyday life.
I have spent my career in crisis PR and have found that it is not always the headline-grabbing, large-scale catastrophic events that wreck a brand’s reputation.
Instead, they start off small and at first sight do not look like a reputation-damaging crisis. Those incidents take many forms – an outbreak of legionnaires’ disease in a resort; an alleged rape or robbery by a member of staff on a customer; embezzlement or an accident by the pool.
I have learnt that how your brand comes out of that crisis, in terms of reputation, is down to you and your actions. In other words, you can, as a brand, have a ‘good’ crisis.
Manage a crisis
The public know that crises can happen. However, the public can make a judgement about your brand – often held for a lifetime, affecting sales and share prices, spreading through word of mouth and on social media – based on how they see you handle it.
Did you refuse to apologise or give an explanation? Did you show a lack of empathy with the victims of an incident?
Did you look unprepared for the sharp focus of the media spotlight? Or the thunderclap of social media reaction?
Were you uncommunicative? Were your answers clipped and corporate, hiding behind a bland neutral statement created by lawyers to defend your position?
Did your most senior person step into the breech, showing leadership to the public and media?
In dealing with many travel companies, I often suffer feelings of incredulity, fear and surprise as they tell me they have no crisis management plan.
They sheepishly admit that there has been no simulation of what the brand could face in terms of a crisis and that there are no plans to do one.
Some say to me: ‘We have been media‑trained, so we’ll be OK.’ But often this has been to launch a new product or talk about an industry trend with a friendly travel journalist who understands the industry.
Prepare a plan
In a crisis, the journalist sat opposite you is a different animal, often with no knowledge or affinity with the sector. Yesterday they were writing about a murder; tomorrow they’ll be writing about a pay dispute. They don’t care about you, they are there to get a story and positive slants are rarely their thing.
You need to be prepared for a crisis and you can’t learn that while the crisis unfolds around you.
In my experience, you can influence how a crisis can be shaped and how your brand can be seen positively, but only if you are properly prepared.
Whatever the size of your business, whatever field you are in, make a comprehensive crisis management plan and positively shape any crisis your business may face.
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