If we have learned one thing about Chipotle's recent woes, following food safety issues and a publicized drug scandal involving its chief marketing officer, it's that a prompt response is key during a crisis.
Besides fixing whatever the problem is--in this case, eliminating the offending E. coli bacteria that infiltrated Chipotle's menu--you absolutely must own up to it. And then communicate what you're doing to resolve your issues right away.
Chipotle still has far to go to overcome the damage done to its brand in recent months. However, it is on the right track.
Peter Duda, co-lead of Weber Shandwick's Global Issues and Crisis Practice has some suggestions for how a brand facing a similar crisis might proceed. With more than 20 years of experience in the industry Duda has seen his fair share of crises. Here are his seven steps for stopping a crisis from upending your brand.
1. Have a plan.
"Prepare for war in peacetime," says Duda. Promote a culture of preparedness. It is important for your organization to have a system in place for when a crisis erupts. It is key you understand everyone's roles and responsibilities in a crisis. "Hope is not a strategy. You need to have a plan," he added.
Prepare for different scenarios. Organize dry runs and identify gaps in the process so you can make sure they are taken care of in time of a crisis. "It's best to do these things ahead of time," Duda says.
2. Speak with one voice.
"No matter what the organization, speak with one voice," says Duda. His advice is to identify and name spokespeople. They will be the voice representing your company's message.
Remember to always verify that your message is accurate and truthful. If you don't have the facts, acknowledge you are aware of the situation and inform your audience you'll report back as soon as more information becomes available.
If you notice there is misinformation spreading across media outlets, this is your opportunity to be on top of it and correct the record. Also, make sure your employees are aware of the situation and inform them of what you're doing to resolve it. "They can be your best advocates," he adds.
3. Be human.
"When you're dealing with a crisis, most of the time you're dealing with an emotional reaction," says Duda. "You can't win by just focusing on logic. You have to make sure you are communicating in a way that also addresses the emotional reaction to what has happened. People want to understand that you take their perceptions seriously."
Logic and accuracy are important during a crisis, but remember you are also speaking to human beings. Make sure your message reflects that.
4. Use social media responsibly.
For effective crisis management, your organization needs to listen to the conversations surrounding the situation, and monitor what people are saying about you, Duda explains. You need to be monitoring traditional media outlets as well as social media channels.
"Social media can certainly be a very, very effective warning system. Organizations need to make sure that when issues come up, they are elevated appropriately, so that you can get ahead of an issue rather than let an issue turn into a larger crisis situation," he says.
5. Acknowledge your reality.
"Most companies don't have PR or communication problems, they have reality problems," Duda says. Companies get in trouble when they're in denial or appear uncaring during a crisis.
Remember the Volkswagen emissions scandal? It took them a couple of days to admit to the wrongdoing, and that hurt both their credibility and their reputation.
Duda recommends that first and foremost you focus on the fix. Identify the problem and come up with a solution. You also need to make sure you perform routinely environmental scans. What is going on in the greater business environment that can impact your company?
6. Share the lessons you've learned.
During a crisis, your corporate reputation takes a hit. You might lose customer loyalty, your share prices might plummet and it can incapacitate your ability to move forward as a business.
So what to do if this happens? "Communicate that you learned something from the situation," recommends Duda. Your stakeholders need to know you have learned something from the experience and that you will implement changes that will prevent a recurrence of a similar situation in the future.
7. Do a postmortem analysis.
After every crisis, it is important to run a postmortem analysis of what transpired, Duda stresses. What are the lessons learned? What worked, what went well and what didn't?
Document the situation and apply the necessary changes to your crisis management system.