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Meg O'Hara

How to face a brand crisis

Meg O'Hara | August 5, 2013

By: Meg O’Hara, A. Bright Idea Marketing Intern

As a rising college senior and current A. Bright Idea intern studying communications and public relations, I have the opportunity to compare the information I have learned as a student with the firsthand experience I have gathered at A. Bright Idea. One interesting recent event had me comparing just that– the academic perspective of what I’ve learned about branding and the real-life importance of protecting a brand.

In the past several weeks, America has tuned into the Paula Deen controversy, a well-recognized and seemingly friendly TV personality, under fire for making derogatory comments in the past. Such events have put Deen’s brand at risk, causing many of her supporters, fans and sponsors to cut ties with Deen and her organization. While she certainly isn’t the first to face a brand crisis, as many athletes and political figures also endure such struggles, it is an important lesson to learn from and topic to address – what measures can be taken to prevent a brand crisis and protect a brands reputation? For certain, strong public relations tactics are necessary to maintain the image of the individual or company including developing a crisis management plan prior to incidents, enabling a proactive response and controlling an organizations message.

Here is a quick list of general do’s and don’ts:

1. Speak early and often. This does not necessarily mean that you have to take the blame for something you didn’t do just to settle the storm, but if you’re in the middle of a PR crisis it is important to remember there is a reason why the situation came about in the first place.  For example, if a brand is being threatened because of an offensive comment that a representative may have made and it wasn’t intended to be construed in that way, apologize for the way it was interpreted and for being unclear.

2. Be clear. Nothing is more important than strong communication. If a statement was misunderstood the first time, reword and explain the points. Preparing a statement prior to notifying the public is critical.

3. Control your message. While it is important to be sincerely apologetic, it is also crucial that a representative be poised, well spoken and have key messages rehearsed and ready. When an image is being repaired, consider that the public needs a reason to rebuild the trust that was lost. If the owner of a company or brand cannot keep their emotions intact on camera, viewers might wonder if they are truly professional and fit for representing a company.

4. Stay consistent. Along with sincerity, the public seeks honesty. When a representative changes a story to repair the image of the brand, it can generate more harm than good. Flip-flopping creates doubt and distrust, further tarnishing the relationship between the company and the public.

5. Keep points concise. Dragging an issue on longer than needed is detrimental to the brand. Every issue settles with time and continuing to harp on the mistake simply prolongs the matter.

Though many companies have faced extreme PR challenges, countless come out successfully. New stories arise diverting the media attention away from the issue, and by taking control of the situation wisely with a plan in place, it is more likely a brand or image can be repaired and rebuilt.

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