SeaWorld Entertainment is in full response mode as the two-year-old documentary “Blackfish” continues to gain momentum.
The documentary alleges cruel treatment of the orca, or killer whales, that SeaWorld has in captivity and uses as part of its public entertainment program. The result has had a distinct impact on the publicly traded company’s bottom line, with its stock and attendance numbers in a continued free fall.
I’m pretty sure everyone agrees that Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is the biggest loser of Super Bowl XLIX. With just one shockingly bad play call, Carroll went from G.O.A.T. to goat.
But many people are pointing to insurance provider Nationwide as the second-biggest loser of Sunday’s Super Bowl. Its depressing Super Bowl ad aired in the first quarter of the game, and it was widely – and immediately – ripped to shreds. A decade ago, you had to wait for tomorrow’s newspaper to see how people responded. But Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms give advertisers real-time feedback – and allow viewer opinions to quickly go viral.
Fortunately for Nationwide, its social media and public relations team quickly came to the rescue of its focus group-challenged advertising team. Within an hour of the ad airing, Nationwide released a statement online explaining the ad and took to social media to join the conversation. The company noted in part:
Social media makes it infinitely easy to offend customers, partners, and even bosses.
This past week a local restaurant in a small Utah town came under fire after one of its cooks posted anti-police sentiment to his personal Facebook page. By the time restaurant owners reacted (by firing the cook and offering free meals to law enforcement officers) it was too late. Local civil rights activists and police watchdogs then joined the conversation, questioning the restaurant’s decision to fire the individual.
Anyone who has ever developed a crisis plan knows what a monumental, albeit critical, task it is. At the same time, once it has been drafted and shared with the crisis response team, you never know how effective it is until it has been battle tested with a real crisis. Fortunately many companies and organizations will never endure a full-blown crisis, but for those who do, it’s not something that will soon be forgotten.
Warning Sign No. 1: You do not have a clear system for reporting a crisis.
The communications team is usually not the first group within a company to identify a crisis. How do you make sure that all of the employees within your organization know when to sound the crisis bell, who to notify, and how to effectively notify them?
Royal Dutch Airlines (@KLM) recently ruffled some international feathers when it tweeted “Adios Amigos #NEDMEX” with a photo of a mustached man in a sombrero in response to the Netherlands’ victory over Mexico in the World Cup. The tweet was only up for 25 minutes before it was deleted, but the damage had been done. Just another example in a long line of tweets that cross the line from “clever” to “offensive.”
Brands and organizations everywhere continue to push the Twitter envelope in an effort to get noticed. But how do they walk that fine line without crossing it and risking embarrassment, ridicule and even a loss of customers?
As communicators with nearly 20 years of experience each, the team at GFM has seen almost every kind of communications crisis out there. From crises you can plan for – such as announcing a bankruptcy filing – to those you can’t see coming – like a natural disaster forcing a temporary business closure – there’s one common thread: having a tested crisis communications plan in place makes all the difference.
Whether you’re drafting your very first crisis plan or refreshing an old version, here are some tips for making sure your plan is comprehensive:
General Motors (GM) continues to take its lumps in the media, social media and in popular culture (a recent spoof on Saturday Night Live) related to the recall of more than 2 million cars, the Chevy Cobalt, for faulty ignition switches. The issues were first uncovered in 2001, but recalls didn’t begin until earlier this year. One of the key factors that prompted congressional hearings is misleading language that didn’t elevate the faulty ignition switches to a “critical fix.”
In particular, an article in Forbes points to a culture where confusing or vague language (hint, euphemisms) may be responsible for the inaction of leadership within the company.
The lines between public relations and marketing continue to blur as Marketing News, the monthly publication for the American Marketing Association, recently focused on creating rapid-response messaging for a crisis or opportunity.
The article, titled Lickety-Split, covered the example of Oreo and how its parent company and marketing agency quickly capitalized on the 2013 Super Bowl blackout by posting a photo of the cookie on the brand’s social media pages with the slogan, “You can still dunk in the dark.” The image was shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter and generated millions of earned media impressions. The author, with help from Gil Rudawsky, provides five tips for developing and executing rapid-response messaging.
Develop a brand voice. Oreo had been building a brand voice for years through various campaigns on social media, so when the Super Bowl opportunity presented itself, the team had the pieces in place to respond quickly (and Oreo was a Super Bowl advertiser).
When brands, organizations and people are publicly attacked, oftentimes the first reaction is to point the finger at others and begin the blame game. How people respond to cutting criticism – being defensive and whiny or responding with dignity and grace – can make a huge difference in how the public reacts and responds.
Under Armour and its high-tech, wind tunnel-tested suits came under fire and were blamed by some on the U.S. speed skating team for the lackluster performances by the American skaters. After the U.S. team blamed the new suits, many skaters went back to their old, winning suits (also Under Armour). Unfortunately, the athletes still failed to win the expected medals.
One of many, many tweets discussing the content of Coke’s campaign.
It’s hard to imagine a global brand implementing an advertising and social media campaign without considering all angles. They have focus groups. They have consumer data. They test and validate…and then retest. They have highly paid marketing professionals and even higher-paid legal counsel. So when Coke runs its #AmericaTheBeautiful ad during Super Bowl XLVIII – regardless of what you think of the campaign – don’t call it “ill planned” or think that Coke’s marketing team didn’t assume what would happen on social networks.