Businesses are human. Mistakes happen. Whether it’s a website that went down for 24 hours, hundreds of canceled flights on Christmas or a voluntary food recall, every business, no matter how big or small, whether considered a trusted industry veteran or startup newbie, can find themselves in the headlines with negative press. And generally speaking, the majority of businesses can recover. The public can be reasonable and forgiving, believe it or not – IF the situation at hand is addressed quickly and honestly. This is precisely the point at which most businesses fail. They get hung up on the half truths and misinformation, immediately putting themselves in a defensive (and seemingly guilty) position. Or burying their head in the sand and leaning on a flimsy legal answer. Whether true or not, proven or not, rumors and unsubstantiated claims will be attached to bad publicity. The most difficult and important first step is to take back control of the narrative – let us emphasize that this next move is paramount – and to do so quickly. Address the situation genuinely, even if you don’t have all the facts yet and show action is being taken to respond, correct and implement a solution. In effect, be human. In the public’s eye, there will always be an “us versus them” mentality when it comes to the common man and corporate executives. The best way to counterbalance it is to take the situation seriously and exhibit authenticity. It’s ok to say you screwed up. And where there is fault, no matter to what scale, apologize for it. Always apologize. Here are the three steps to do it well.
1. Apologize without a caveat.
Hands down, this is one of the most common mistakes leaders make in a crisis. They recognize the need to apologize but dilute it with a clarification or by placing blame on others. Instead, keep the apology simple, pure, and genuine. Take accountability quickly, then focus on the solution.Because the buck does and should stop with you.
2. Acknowledge the human impact.
Whether it involves layoffs, personal injury, or just general inconvenience, every crisis affects people personally. Do not ignore this. By showing sympathy, leaders are seen as acknowledging the gravity of the situation. In some situations, this can also translate to a new offer, discount or refund for the consumer. Back up the empathy with something tangible.
3. Commit to a solution and stick with it.
When you emerge from a crisis with a solution, make sure you can live with the positioning strategy for a long time. If new rules and processes are implemented, stick with them. Chart a course that aims to prevent future mistakes. It’s ok if this can’t be implemented overnight. For many businesses, it’s a journey that will take time and as long as the business stays committed to it and shares updates as progress is made, people can accept that. When it comes to press, businesses are always focused on positive media coverage and how to pique the media’s interest in the products, services and announcements associated with their brand. What is often overlooked or outright ignored, is how to respond to negative publicity. It’s a myth that good press will eventually outweigh the bad. If not addressed, bad press can take on a life of its own. So you must own it first. Stand by your work product and the team that makes it happen.
You owe it to your employees and to the customers that have supported you. Because,those two groups can be your loudest advocates or biggest critics. Which is the topic for an entirely different blog post.