Hulk Mode Off: Rules of Anti-Crisis PR

What is right vs What we get

What you need to know

What matters in anti-crisis measures is two things: speed of response and complexity of measures. If your company has got into trouble, you need to act at once and quickly. At this point, communications consist of personified external and internal ones. This figure shows a step-by-step plan for saving a company in 45 days. Gradually, step by step. However, if you messed up big time, and you have a full-blown crisis on your hands, you have to do everything and at the same time. This plan will help you relieve the sharp pain of your clients, employees, investors. The rest will have to be done gradually, orienting both the brand and its ambassadors towards long-term work.

So, how to relieve sharp pain?

1. First of all, tracking and analytics of mentions are to be set up via one of the analytics systems, such as Brand Analytics, YouScan, Medialogia. You should also do analytics in comparison with your rivals — that will, at least, give you a comprehensive idea of the situation. Moreover, if the crisis you are in is related to a leak caused by a competitor or to damage to your business reputation, then analytics will help you use the data to your advantage.

Nowadays even quite large companies use systems for tracking mentions in social networks yet the media are tracked manually and there is no automatic system for comparing with your rivals. And such tracking really helps to analyze how your competitors and other market players cope with similar situations.

“When a competitive attack from large banks began in one of the banks where I worked, we immediately set up instant alerts from all available tracking systems: Scan Interfax, Medialogia, Brand Analytics. That enabled us to respond to negative and provocative publications before they were reprinted and sent to media partners.”

2. Respond instantly. The first response to accusations, a negative publication, a leak should take place within half an hour. At the very least, it is necessary to call the key journalists and to let them know that an official statement is being prepared.

Usually, most companies respond to an event that involves a leak or some accusations two days later at best. By that time, there are already articles and reprints about problems in the company all across the country or even abroad. Swift's response makes it possible to include official comments of the company in all materials, which eases the tension. Besides, it gives the regional press a chance to publish articles with less scandalous headlines. Some materials can be simply taken off. (Sorry, dear editors.)

For example:

During self-isolation, many companies faced problems with delivery services along with other troubles. There was a growing number of posts on social networks about how a brand was let down, how many people did not receive goods that they had paid for, how long someone waited to return a purchase or for a courier to arrive. When people are stuck at home, delays in delivery provoke outrage. There is nothing to be done about it but it is possible to build the communication in such a way that people would not feel deceived. What was usually done: impersonal and rather cool messages. What was needed: understanding, individual messages.

“Remember the incident with Rocketbank and a broken cable. The situation where clients had no means of payment while sitting in a restaurant, spending time with their friends, in front of a cash register in a shop should have led to an outburst of complaints on social networks and customer attrition. However, the bank received colossal support from its clients. How?

1) Right after the incident PR specialists together with all top managers arrived to the place where the cable was broken and provided live coverage on social networks;

2) They contacted each client, explained what happened, apologized personally, and asked them to stay;

3) They gave extra cashback;

4) They started a flash mob on social networks.

Ultimately, they not only avoided a wave of negativity but also received great support on social media and the viral popularity of pictures of the cable. As well as new clients.”

3. Set a theme. It often happens that companies without a separate PR division publish materials chaotically. They are either mentions by competitors or impersonal comments of the company’s spokespersons at the request of journalists. They do not convey the values of the company, the internal situation, a clear position, or internal events.

Here is an example of such a publication: “All in all, from March 23 to April 12 Wildberries employed 5 400 people. ‘During three weeks dozens of companies, including Moscow airport Domodedovo, Rocketbank, KFC, Sportmaster, Kanzler, Rolf, Dochki-Synochki, Ekonika, Kari, Samsonite, Baon, Sunlight, Melon Fashion Group, Funday, contacted Wildberries with proposals to employ their staff temporarily’, says the retailer”.

In this publication Sportmaster, Baon, Funday, and others look like the losing side whereas Wildberries appears in a good light. However, Sportmaster, for instance, has all the reasons to be on par with Wildberries. Let’s read a different article: “The Sportmaster chain and the biggest Russian online retailer Wildberries have observed a surge in sales right after closure of fitness clubs (sales reached a peak on March 22)”. This event could be used as quite a useful tool.

If there is no real event, it could be made up: contactless delivery by drones, selection of startups, new technologies in production, your purchase will be delivered by a top executive, a complaint to a director, etc.

In a similar situation that took place at the same bank I mentioned in the first paragraph we took everything under control. On one hand, there was indisputable evidence that the bank was struggling, on the other hand, we had carte blanche for all other news topics. We started a massive PR campaign for information technologies of the bank, launched pilots, developed blockchain solutions, selected startups, published columns about key trends. All in all, 2800 publications about IT of the bank appeared within 6 months conveying a positive message that compensated negative stories about assets.

4. Control the flow of information. This partly resonates with the previous point. It is crucial to be the first to respond to the current situation without waiting for the press or competitors. To create your own newsworthy events and to react to others, to appear in each material about a crisis. You should create a chain of news topics so that in a crisis you could catch several positive waves that would carry a large volume of articles and reprints. Each information wave can be started once every two weeks. This is just the time to consider viral communication carefully.

For one amazing Hong Kong startup, we had to invent a story that would distract users and investors from technical problems, difficulties with payments to investors, etc. We decided to launch a series of viral newsworthy events.

Here are some of them: a private kindergarten was launched in the Moscow area, where children are taught to trade on the stock exchange; the company will pay the hockey players of the Belarusian club Dynamo a salary from its assets; the company’s supporters have made the largest QR-code with the company’s website to break the Guinness World Records, the company’s QR-code will temporarily hide Malevich’s Black Square. These news topics were launched one by one, as soon as the buzz from the previous one subsided. We received two bursts of active discussions from each topic. The overall coverage of each occasion was 6,000,000, while at the same time activity in social networks increased, foreign media reprinted publications, the community and investors gave their support.

5. Be available 24/7. I believe this thesis speaks for itself. Just stay in touch with journalists, investors, clients — all the time, without breaks for food or sleep.

6. Become more active on social media. The average response time on social media should be around 1.5 minutes 24/7 so that everyone could get an answer to their question in real-time.

Moreover, there are should be messages on the official page from the head of the company or a responsible employee written in a natural way, with a request to support the company in a difficult situation. The same kind of swift response should be ensured on customer review websites. Some feedback may and should be deleted, some should be provided by the company itself, the average rating of a company on customer review websites should not be below 3.8.

Besides, communication should be personalized. Either from a personal account, or on an official page but from a director and so on. Clients should receive significant bonuses especially those of them who give positive feedback when a problem is solved.

In a crisis that took place at one of our companies even those executives who have always stayed below radar have taken part in communication. They spoke on their own behalf, they participated in TV shows, they commented on the situation in the press though in ordinary circumstances it was the PR department or responsible divisions who spoke on their behalf.

7. In crisis communication it is vital to always convey the key communication messages and values of the brand.

8. The communication should include all possible channels for informing employees, clients, partners, the community. (We have discussed this in the previous issue).