Something became very apparent as we looked back at crisis communication stories in 2016. We found two kinds of business crises; those that happen to you, and those you inflict upon yourself. If a crisis happens to your company, you should be prepared and able to jump right into your crisis plan. But if the crisis is caused by you shooting yourself in the foot, the first thing you should do is stop shooting!
We selected a few well publicized crises from 2016 and categorized them. We chose to go easy on Yahoo and Tesla, since both of those started externally and happened to these companies. Then our list went haywire – was it possible that the rest were self-inflicted crises? Wells Fargo, EpiPen, Ryan Lochte, Samsung, Cinemark, the Wounded Warrior Project and Chipotle’s – were all self inflicted.
We spend a lot of time preaching about the Crisis Communications Plan – your ability to prepare for and react to a crisis. We find that this is often put in terms of defending yourself from outside threats. But are businesses doing enough to prepare for internally created crises? Maybe we should take a moment to look at and learn from these three case studies from 2016.
In 2012, the Cinemark theater in Aurora, Colorado became home to an unbelievable tragedy. An armed gunman killed 12 people and injured 70. This was a horrific crisis. However, the business dealings after the crisis gave rise to a new set of problems in 2016. Victims and their families sued Cinemark, claiming the theater chain didn’t provide adequate security the day of the attack. The court ruled in Cinemark’s favor, and the corporation escaped with their reputation intact. That should have been the signal for Cinemark to focus on strengthening and growing their brand.
Enter what we call the “business as usual” mode without a crisis plan. When a business is sued by their customers for something they didn’t cause, it’s a slippery slope. When Cinemark emerged victorious from the lawsuit, they decided to go after the victims of the 2012 Aurora shooting for legal fees.
Did they have a right to do this? Absolutely. Should they have realized this was a horrible idea? Well, duh. They eventually settled, but the damage was done. The #BoycottCinemark hashtag went viral, Newtown filmmakers pulled their film from Cinemark theaters, and the company got compared online to Subway sexual predator Jared Vogel, who also sued victims.
Oh Chipotle, can’t you just get your act together? America loves your fresh burrito goodness, but you must really want us to “hit the road, Jack.” You all know that Chipotle was spreading E. coli as thick as chunky guacamole in 2015. They managed this disaster poorly, tanking both stock value and customer trust.
Remember what we said earlier? The first thing to do after you’ve shot yourself in the foot is to stop shooting. Instead, Chipotle reloaded the gun. Breaking news alerted hungry customers that one of Chipotle’s top execs got caught with white powder on his hands, and it wasn’t from making tortillas. Mark Crumpacker, Chief Creative Officer, was busted for purchasing cocaine numerous times from a drug ring in New York. Holy guacamole!
Chipotle chose to publicly stand behind Crumpacker in a way that left a rotten taste in customers’ mouths. Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold stated “Our executive team and board of directors believe that having Mark continue to lead our marketing and development efforts is what is best for our company, our employees, our investors and our future.” Huh? Really?
Standing behind someone when they ask for help is admirable. Bailing them out of jail in time for a marcomm meeting is something different. Were they really concerned about saving a dying brand or more excited about rolling out their new Chorizo Burrito coined as a “low calorie” option which turned out to be one of the higher calorie items on the menu? As the Chipotle brand dwindles, the faint echos of hungry customers can be heard chanting, “Yo quiero Taco Bell.”
Liar liar pants on fire is what Samsung said to their customers when cell phones began to spontaneously combust… that is until the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was banned from airlines globally. A case of a big industrial design snafu, the new product line went TNT leaving their customers steaming mad. Samsung could have pulled the fire extinguisher out right away and taken the Galaxy Note 7 off the shelves while expediting refunds to keep their customers happy. Instead, Samsung started replacing the phones, claiming the problem was fixed. But the fix was not really a fix, which became apparent when reports emerged of replacement phones bursting into flames.
Now Samsung is working quickly to get the next generation of phones to market and they finally appear to be handling claims with some care. Meanwhile, customers are simmering down and Samsung is discovering the meaning of “brand loyalty”. Apparently, Samsung customers believe in second chances. Stay tuned for more on this story in 2017…
So What Have You Learned in 2016 About Protecting Your Brand?
For goodness sake, do you have a Crisis Plan yet? The brands who survive a crisis are the brands who prepare for a crisis. This year tells us something more, though, doesn’t it? While a Crisis Plan gets you up to speed and ready to react, maybe you need a pro who knows the power of public opinion; someone who can tell you if the decision you’re about to implement is a wrecking ball in the making.
Let’s summarize. A lot of brands were their own worst enemies in 2016 and you can learn from this. Remember, it isn’t IF but WHEN a crisis will occur. Know that Carter & Co.Communications is here, every day, always ready to step up to the plate. We will help you create your crisis plan; we will walk with you, we will walk for you when anything threatens your brand. Why not make 2017 your best year yet by ensuring your brand is protected no matter what surprises come your way.
If you would like to build a Crisis Plan, please contact us here.