Honest communication ‘best way’ to meet crisis

As soon as we hear the story from the marketing director, the Kerbel team meets to review media clips, identify journalists who covered the story and assess potential damage.When we meet him again later that day, we see he is almost...

As soon as we hear the story from the marketing director, the Kerbel team meets to review media clips, identify journalists who covered the story and assess potential damage.

When we meet him again later that day, we see he is almost out of control, never having been confronted with such a situation.

He had the presence of mind, however, to prepare the agenda for his meeting with senior management that evening.

Key concerns

We immediately deal with the key concerns and advise him that honest, open communication is the best way of handling a crisis, and that the company must be prepared to deal with this issue in a proactive manner.

By doing so, there is a better opportunity to control the issue, rather than have it control you.

Our strategy is to defuse the situation as quickly as possible by neutralizing or turning around negative media coverage.

The marketing director must decide to either dump the celebrity and cut his losses, or support him in spite of the crisis he allegedly created.

Legally, there appears to be grounds for terminating the contract on a morality issue if the celebrity failed to live up to community standards.

However, after reviewing all relevant information and discussing the situation with the celebrity’s lawyer, the agency recommends the company support him to protect the considerable investment in him and the brand, that is, continue the planned promotional campaign.

The next hour we strategize with the marketing director and calmly review a number of scenarios.

The team takes him through all the scenarios, pointing out the opportunities and downsides of each decision. A member of the team is charting the discussion as we speak.

At the end of two hours we have routed the marketing director through a course of action with which he is comfortable.

He has bought into the strategy and must now sell it to senior management.

The meeting with senior management and the company lawyer also includes the vice-president of sales and the director of human resources.

The marketing director and the public relations team present their strategy:

1.The company will continue to support the celebrity.

2. The company will be proactive, calling a news conference for 11:30 the next morning at a location preferably away from its offices.

3. A media alert will be sent out at 8 a.m. Monday indicating time and place of the news conference.

4. The president will be the company spokesperson. The celebrity will be making the major statement.

5. The agency will prepare the q&a and meet the president, celebrity and marketing director on Sunday evening to prepare each of them to handle the media’s questions.

6. On Monday morning, the agency will call reporters who have covered the story to inform them of the news conference.

7. Incoming media calls Monday morning will be directed to the marketing director who will inform them of the news conference. He will also take calls from the public concerning the autograph session.

8. The agency will prepare remarks for the president and celebrity and put together a media information kit containing a corporate backgrounder, celebrity’s bio and description of his community endeavors, prepared statements of the president and celebrity.

9. The agency will prepare a personal letter from the president to be faxed to employees at all locations.

The strategy is to build on the company’s excellent reputation and credibility, the celebrity’s positive image and to tell the whole story, the true story.

To deflect negative comments, the president will compare the incident to a ‘family’ crisis  when everyone pulls together, all obstacles can be overcome.

He will talk about commitment and honesty and show full support for the celebrity’s courage and integrity by coming forward with the true story; he will emphasize that the celebrity is still an important member of the team.

The celebrity will tell his story with apologies for missing the autograph session and invite everyone to attend another on a specified date.

At that time he will provide tickets to a game for the first 50 children to attend and team T-shirts to the next 50 children who come by. There will be free candy bars for everyone.

The agency will continue to monitor the media after the news conference and for four weeks thereafter.

Within the first 24 hours, the agency will review and analyze all media clips to ensure consistency of messages and to respond if there are lingering negative comments. All requests for additional media interviews will be vetted by the agency.

Debriefing with the entire team is arranged for Tuesday morning along with the advertising agency.

This team, excluding the celebrity, will assess the potential effect of the situation on sales, review the long-term advertising campaign and begin to develop a strategy for marketing the product ‘sans’ celebrity.

The sales force will be asked to monitor the effect on the brand and to evaluate feedback from customers.

At the end of the first week the team will review media coverage and sales figures to determine the immediate effects on the brand.

Consumer research will be conducted after six weeks to gauge the public’s perception of the company and the brand.

The long-term strategy will include recommendations for public relations to ensure no negative perceptions exist based on results of the consumer research.

Carole Kerbel is president of Kerbel Communications, a public relations agency based in Toronto.