A Pound Of Cure: How To Protect Your Brand From The Unexpected
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It could take a simple tweet. A Facebook post. A reply to an issue that goes viral for all the wrong reasons. Or an exploding phone. Yes. Really. An exploding phone.
It doesn’t take much to hurt a business like yours. A simple-to-resolve issue can quickly spiral into full-blown crisis. We aren’t short of examples in recent history from a US airline forcibly assaulting a passenger to remove him out of a plane to these more memorable ones.
A few months ago, Electronic Arts, one of the largest video game publishers in the world, overnight wiped an astonishing three billion dollars of their stock value because of the reasoning they gave for pushing dreaded micro transactions for their much-anticipated game, Star Wars Battlefront II. Gamers didn’t buy it, and EA got slaughtered on social media and online bulletin boards, causing their stock to tumble.
More recently, Apple admitted what many customers already suspected: that older models of iPhones were being deliberately slowed down. The company is now facing multiple lawsuits from very angry and unhappy customers. Of course, there’s Samsung’s exploding phones. Not only was this a hit for the corporation’s bottom-line (as it was their flagship phone), but they’ve had to work on regaining the trust of customers and the world after their reputation –quite literally– went up in smoke.
For better or for worse, each of these company’s crisis management teams went right to work after their issues snowballed into something a lot more serious. But there is something that these large multinationals have that you don’t: the resources to pay for experts to help them model, and then execute their crisis management plans and, of course, millions and millions of dollars in reserves in case they must “buy” themselves out their problems.
But what you can you do, as a small business or startup owner, when you simply don’t have the resources to get yourself out of a quagmire? As American founding father Ben Franklin famously said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and there are steps you can take right now, no matter the size of your organization, to plan for the unexpected, protect your brand, and just as importantly, preserve your own reputation as a business owner.
Before we get into the “what-to-dos,” let’s establish the difference between an issue and a crisis. An issue is a problem or a concern that can impede the progress of your business. Done right, you would have anticipated the issue beforehand and already have developed a strategy to deal with it. A crisis normally does not give you that leeway, and you are normally left with quickly-narrowing choices based on very limited information. Sadly, it doesn’t take a crisis of great magnitude to bring down a business of your size.
Without further ado, here’s some guidelines on how to avoid potentially brand-threatening situations and be ready for them before the proverbial manure really hits the fan:
1. Resort to your crystal ball? No.
Don’t seek out a clairvoyant or the village soothsayer. This is about predicting what issues and potential crises can arise in your business. Involve everyone in your team in this exercise as no one knows your business best like you and your staff. List down potential issues and their ramifications; it’s best to list the ramifications based on what aspect of your business it affects, like financial, reputation, and so forth, and who (customers, investors, employees, etc.). Then, list down the course of action to be taken when the issue arises. Remember, managing your issues is a preventative course of action as not to turn your issues into crises so take your time and dig deep.
2. Map out your stakeholders
As part of developing your plan, you also need to figure out who you need to talk to, i.e., your stakeholders. Hopefully, this was done during your marcomms planning, but in this case, you also need to determine what and how you communicate with them should the need arise. Your stakeholders may include your investors, the media, the public, customers, and even your own employees. Consider this more of a messaging workshop; again, get everyone on board with this.
3. Form your crisis management team
The above steps should result into a working document. With your plan set, it’s time to determine the roles of your staff. Ideally, in an organization the size of a startup, the entire team is the crisis management team– that’s how we’ve set it up in mrUsta. Roles should be clearly defined and actions to be taken should be straight-forward and unambiguous. With some issues, you don’t need to commission everyone to act (in some cases, it’s something that you alone can resolve).
4. Own your story
A simple rule to follow– if you don’t tell your story, someone else will. You do not want your control over the narrative to be hijacked. That means you must act quickly and effectively to get your story out to those that need to hear it.
5. Set up your DEFCON system
Your business may not set off the next nuclear conflict (or so we hope…!), so you can use an old PR tool that is still very effective for small companies: a “traffic light” system. Use the traditional colors of a traffic light– green, yellow (or amber as our British friends like to call it), and red to specify what actions, if any, should be taken. Green means that everything is running normally and work should proceed as normal. Yellow (or amber) means there are issues that run the risk of hurting your business and actions should be taken immediately to prevent escalation. Red means you’re in crisis mode– everyone must drop what they are doing, and go full on according to plan. You can literally have a physical representation of this system in your office like we do in mrUsta, so that everyone internally knows what “state of readiness” you’re in.
It is inherent in business that you will face issues and bumps along the road. As a small business or startup owner, these bumps may turn into mountains on a whim with untold consequences on your organization. We’ve shown that you don’t need a big budget and bottomless pockets like big corporates seem to have to set up your own issues and crisis management plans– all you need is the foresight, the structure, and the sheer understanding on how crucial it is for you to have a plan in place.
We all dream to be the next Electronic Arts, Samsung, or Apple. But they have the means to continue functioning normally even after they get hit hard with PR disasters and blunders. You can’t afford that. Continue, as you do, to dream to be the next great innovator; just make sure to also keep your head below the clouds and hold your pound of cure close- always.