Crisis Mode Marketing: How to Redeem Your Brand After a Scandal

Life ring floating on water

In an age where everyone can share their experiences online, it’s easier than ever for your company or brand to land itself in a scandal. This is why a knowledge of crisis mode marketing is absolutely vital.

If you find yourself in the midst of a PR nightmare, you can’t just take a few days off social media and wait for it to blow over. You need to act quickly, calmly and carefully. Supersede Media is going to walk you through 6 key steps that can help your brand redeem itself and start afresh after a scandal. Let’s get into it!

When does criticism become a crisis?

Before launching into the main elements of crisis mode marketing, you first need to be able to recognise when your brand is in crisis. This might seem a little obvious, but as it’s common for brands to receive criticism, the difference isn’t always that clear.

Complaints and the occasional bout of online badmouthing come with the territory of being a public company. It’s not nice, but you can’t take it too personally. After all, it’s much easier to draw the ire of others when you’re a brand, because in the eyes of consumers you can be boiled down to a money-making machine with no human face.

Criticism becomes a crisis, however, when the original line of attack takes on a life of its own. Here are a few warning signs that you have a full-blown crisis on your hands:

  • After a few days the negative comments are still increasing
  • The criticism is voiced over a number of different platforms
  • Public figures become involved
  • You are contacted by the press for comment
  • People dig into past information on your brand to support the current accusations

Of course, there will also be situations when your company is involved in such a big mistake that you can tell from the get go that you are in very hot water. In these instances, you should hit the red button for crisis mode marketing right away!

The 6 steps of crisis mode marketing

1. Practice makes perfect

Handling a crisis well in its early stages can significantly reduce the overall damage it does to your reputation. This is why it’s ideal to have some kind of emergency plan available before a crisis actually hits. You won’t be able to cover the specifics without knowing the exact nature of the crisis, but having at least a vague outline of a plan can really pay off in the future.

Step 1, then, is to have done some pre-crisis planning that you can draw on when the bad days arrive. You need to think in terms of actions that will allow you to get some control over the narrative and ensure that everyone working for the brand is on the same page in terms of the company message. Looking at examples of how other brands succeeded or failed to overcome various crises can help with this.


Time to Bring in the Big Guns?

If your brand is hit with a scandal of a particularly serious nature (we’re talking allegations of harassment or money laundering) you need to seek professional legal advice before launching your crisis mode marketing plan. Lawyers will be pretty strict in terms of what exactly you can and can’t say. Take this advice seriously as it will save you from further exacerbating the problem and landing yourself in more trouble down the line.

2. Face it head on

Microphone facing camera Image source: Santtu Perkiö (via Unsplash)

Sometimes, when brands find themselves facing a crisis, those in the upper ranks weigh up the options of ignoring the problem until it goes away or acknowledging it head on. Nine times out of ten, it is better to publicly acknowledge the issue. Not doing so can be thrown back in your face later, even if you eventually manage to smooth things out.

To get the timing right you have to perform a bit of a balancing act. You want your response to be swift but considered. In some cases you may need to give the crisis time to unfold in order to get a clear understanding of what exactly is happening. Just keep in mind that while you are silent, people will be making their own assumptions about the situation, and you are unlikely to come out of it in a flattering light! The quicker you respond, the quicker you can start to gain at least some control over the narrative.

Internal response

If a true crisis has taken hold, your employees are on the front line and likely fielding some tough questions. It is therefore imperative that all teams are quickly informed of the brand’s stance on what is happening.

Send out an internal memo outlining the response from the top and provide some kind of point of contact for members of staff who require more information to do their jobs. Remember that nothing is really private these days, so be consistent with the messaging and don’t say anything that would cause you further embarrassment if it were to be leaked.

Public response

Even if the internal consensus is that the brand has done nothing wrong (which, to be perfectly honest, is rare), now is not the time to be defensive. It makes you look guilty and it’s generally off-putting. Members of the public are more likely to soften their attitudes towards you if you show both sincerity and humility.

The first statement you release can be relatively short. After all, you are likely to still be grappling with the full extent of the situation around the time of your first response. Plus, the shorter it is, the less people have to pick apart! Just make sure it’s considerable enough to show that you are taking the whole thing very seriously. Stick to one statement in the beginning and share it across all public platforms.

3. Listen to the criticism

Dog with large ears that are being held up Image source: kyle smith (via Unsplash)

As tough as it may be, you need to take on board what is being fired at you. And we mean really listen. Whether you agree with what is being said about your brand or not, people feel strongly enough about it that a crisis has erupted. You therefore need to leave your ego at the door and try to view the situation from an outside perspective. You won’t fully understand the crisis until you really let what the critics are saying sink in.

Some of the negative commentary you read or watch may be unfair, but plenty of it will be useful. Keep what you learn in mind when crafting public statements.

Provide a crisis focal point

Another important way that you can gain some control over a crisis is by providing a space in which people can vent. For example, you could create a specific email address to which people can send their thoughts, feelings and general complaints linked to the situation. If it’s created by you it means you get to set the rules and keep a close eye on developments. On top of that, you’ll gain important insights from what is being said.

A private mail box is much less damaging than the free for all that is probably happening on your socials! You can start to clean up that mess by responding to people with a link to the complaints channel. If those same people continue to push back once you begin interacting, you can stop responding. Be at peace with the fact that not everyone will be willing to accept your apologies and move on. At least others will be able to see that you attempted to engage in a polite and useful way.

The crisis focal point should also include all available information on how the company is tackling the problem. A great format to use for this is an FAQ section. Provide carefully-worded answers to the main queries you see cropping up on social media platforms and other forums. Depending on the size of the crisis, you might want to dedicate an entire page of your website to it. This is where you can include the latest statement on the matter, a contact box and the FAQs.

4. Make an effort to learn and grow

View from between two library shelves Image source: K8 (via Unsplash)

Apologising is a good start. In order for the public to forgive and forget, however, you have to take active steps to make amends. A great way to prove that you have listened to the critics and earnestly want to grow from the mistakes of the past, is to educate yourself and your staff. This means investing in some company-wide training on areas where it has fallen short. The training should be provided by an outside professional, rather than someone already working for the brand.

Be sure to include details of this training on your website and social pages. Show what you have learned and explain how you will apply the knowledge so that the mistakes are not repeated. If you can provide images or videos of the staff taking part in the training it can really push home the message that the company is committed to improving itself.

To show that you are determined to make long term changes rather than short term quick fixes, consider devising some pledges for the future. Depending on the nature of your business and the crisis you are overcoming, this could mean committing to reducing your carbon emissions or diversifying your workforce. Set a specific completion date for these goals so that you can be held accountable.

In the meantime, if you have the available funds, look for suitable charities or communities that you can give back to. This could be in the form of volunteer work, business collaborations or financial donations. Not only will you be making an actual difference, but it provides you with some much-needed positive PR.

5. Heads will roll?

If your company is hit with a particularly serious scandal, there may need to be sacrifices of the human kind. Obviously we’re not telling you to get Kenny from the IT Department whacked, but some of the key figures responsible for overseeing the crisis-hit areas may need to be let go.

Think long and hard about these decisions. Not only will this have a big impact on the lives of the individuals in question, but you also don’t want to look like you’re throwing people under the bus. The latter could further damage company morale. It may even cause more problems down the line, should the workers choose to challenge the decision or take their story to the press. This is another scenario where you might want to speak to a lawyer before settling on a decision.

All that being said, actions do have consequences and people need to face the repercussions of their mistakes. It might be necessary to get rid of a couple of people to save the overall company.

6. A New Beginning

sunrise with clouds above and below Image source: Clicker Babu (via Unsplash)

Taken the above steps and your brand seems to be recovering? Now is the time to focus on some of the positives. The public has likely seen a more fallible, human side to the company which can endear you to them. Use this to your advantage in advertisements while reminding people what they originally liked about your brand. If you’ve been honest about your past mistakes, you may now find it easier to build trusting relationships with your customers. Trust leads to loyalty and loyalty leads to business success!

For other brands, a major crisis can cause lasting damage. If your reputation is still in tatters, it may take a complete rebrand to get you back on your feet. This can be both expensive and time-consuming, so strap yourself in for some hard work. You may even need to lie low for a while to let the dust settle before your reinvention.

No matter the post-crisis picture, take the time to pore over all available data to see what lessons you can take from the whole mess. Your next project or company will benefit from any insights you can gain—and that’s what we call a silver lining!

We hope you found this guide to crisis mode marketing useful! If you have any comments, queries or requests for Supersede Media, shoot us a message via our contact form.