Managing a Crisis

In today’s 24/7 news cycle, it seems companies and organizations are facing crisis situations more often. Yesterday, popular clothing retailer H&M began coping with a crisis threatening the brand’s reputation and contradicting a corporate policy.

According to an article in  yesterday’s New York Times, a student in New York found bags of brand new, yet slashed clothes that had been thrown out near an H&M store. A spokeswoman for H&M said it was corporate policy to donate unworn clothes to charitable organizations, yet these clothes seemed to be ripped apart on purpose. The Huffington Post picked up the article, as well as dozens of mainstream and blog outlets, and comments on H&M’s social media sites have turned against the company.

Because this crisis threatens the integrity of the organization, it is the role of the public relations practitioner to guide the organization to a resolution. So, what do you do in such a situation?

I pulled out a checklist I received from Kelly Rossman-McKinney, APR, Fellow PRSA, CEO of the Rossman Group, an issues management firm in Lansing, Mich. Kelly serves as Michigan State University PRSSA’s Professional Advisor and gave our Chapter advice on how to respond to a crisis. Below are 10 principles to remember while executing a communications plan:

  1. Choose a messenger that is credible, such as the CEO.
  2. Make sure your message fits the context and the environment in which you are located.
  3. Make sure your message is relevant to your audience.
  4. Craft a clear, simple, straightforward message that will be long-lasting.
  5. The continuity and consistency of the message is key for audience penetration.
  6. Choose the correct channels and tools to communicate to your audience.
  7. Answer the question in every consumer’s head: “What’s in it for me?”
  8. Make sure your audience knows you care about the situation.
  9. Be sure to create a message your audience can understand.
  10. Have a clear call to action. What is the audience supposed to do now?

If you were heading up H&M’s corporate communications department, how would you respond to the situation? Keep in mind the principles above as you discuss a possible plan of action.

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5 Responses to Managing a Crisis

  1. Mary rose January 7, 2010 at 9:51 am #

    If H&M has not released anything, I think they should do so as soon as possible. Learn from Tiger and don’t ignore media or the curiosity of the fans. Aside from the CEO, it might be beneficial to have Madonna eventually speak on the incident.

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    nicklucido Reply:

    I think one of the challenging aspects of this was things emerged after hours, which means people are unavailable. I think that’s what took so long for them to start responding. Unfortunately, I think this translates to the brand suffering.

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    JG Reply:

    In PR there is never after-hours or being unavailable. A good PR practitioner, especially one responsible for a corporate brand, should always be keeping on eye on what is being said about the company. They did the right thing, they addressed the issue where there was the most chatter…Twitter. Good crisis response is timely, but you can’t rush into it without all the facts and details with the support of a well thought out plan.

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  2. Kion January 7, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    If I was H&M’s “PR guy,” I would have called a crisis meeting with the already established crisis team. In this meeting, we would discuss the problem and damage, hold a conference call with the store’s management team to find out what happened, formulate a plan of action and have the already established messenger prepared to be our voice.

    A crisis requires a strategic-immediate response. This is why it’s important for PR departments to have a crisis plan and team (not just for formality but a team that is always prepared).

    In H&M’s situation, they have policies set in place that protects their company’s reputation. According to policy, the incident should not have happened. Management should deal with the responsible associate and communicate that to their publics.

    I’m impressed with H&M’s fast response. Social media is a very powerful tool and companies need to monitor their brands. Besides the wording in their official social media statement, they receive a “thumbs up” from me. 😀

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  3. Jack Lien July 13, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Hi, can anyone help me out. I am looking for a crisis life cycle model.
    For example :
    first four hour report to the media
    Day 2: Re correct statements
    Day 3: Inform the media more about the situation.

    I understand all crisis are handle differently but I am looking for a generic crises model in a graphic/chart form if possible. If anyone can help I would greatly appreciate it.

    Jack

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