You’ll never face a crisis as big as the one BP is mired in, but no matter how well you do what you do, chances are your business will someday be involved in an unfortunate situation.
And when that crisis hits, here’s the absolute best PR and marketing advice you can get: Come clean.
Why? Because the genie is already out of the bottle. Problems ignored or downplayed have a way of getting worse – and of bleeding away the trust and goodwill you’ve been working years to build.
Once you’re in crisis mode, nothing can do you more harm than trying to “manage” the problem. It’s better to explain how the problem occurred, explain your response to the problem, and, most importantly, fix the problem.
If you look at crisis management from an inbound marketing perspective, this is a no-brainer. But it sure as hell wasn’t obvious to BP (and many other corporations, politicians and entertainers in recent years). Through inbound marketing, you are providing your audience with the information they need to succeed. You are finding out what they care about and creating content that helps them. You are not interrupting them with a sales pitch and the hype that accompanies traditional marketing efforts.
So why don’t more organizations go this route? Because in a crisis, you revert to old habits, which typically involve circling the wagons, lying on the ground and hoping people don’t notice that anything is wrong. And in a Web 2.0 world, that’s a recipe for failure because plenty of people are going to notice, and social media gives them the tools to tell an exponential amount of others.
Of course none of this really matters in BP’s case. The gulf spill is too big to not poison their brand and no amount of transparency could change that. But for your business, if you have a software bug, or a security breach, or some other embarrassing situation, a rapid, transparent response is your best strategy.
Think about it – your customers thought enough of you and your product or service to buy it. They will certainly be more understanding and forgiving if you alert them to an issue and take immediate steps to make it right than if they find out about the problem from a third party.
And from a media relations perspective, nothing stops the news cycle better than complete disclosure (How many second-day stories have you seen about Company X or politician Z not fully coming clean? Too many for it to happen to you.)
So there you have it, the simple secret to dealing with a crisis: Come clean quickly. Come clean constructively. And come clean completely.
Oh, and one last thing, don’t ever refer to your audience as “small people.”