Public Relations with Tracy Leach of Providence Consulting
A SWOT analysis is conducted whenever a business needs to answer a particular question, such as: “Should we take advantage of a new business opportunity?” or “Should we develop a new product line or service?” The SWOT analysis is a brainstorming exercise to evaluate the company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats in an effort to create a plan to move forward, or perhaps, shelve the idea. Regardless of where a business is in their particular growth cycle, one element that is often overlooked involves the most prolific form of marketing and communication today, Social Media. Social Media is often looked at as a positive method to market one’s brand, however, what is your plan to handle a Social Media crisis? Think about how often you see a negative comment on social media that garners numerous responses and goes viral in a matter of hours. What if your company was the focal point of that discussion? Are you prepared? Statistics show approximately 30% of businesses are not.
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was the worst oil spill in U.S. history. BP’s media response to this incident was described by many as “appalling”. The public can often forgive an incident, however, they will not forgive a poor response. Sadly, BP’s handling of the Deepwater Horizon disaster has become a textbook example of how NOT to handle crisis management. One might think their business is not on the scale of a BP and thus, not subject to such a widespread media crisis, but crises can strike in many different forms. Dictionary.com defines crisis as: “a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger.” It has nothing to do with the size of a company. All it takes is a disgruntled employee, angry customer, or the public at large, to post on Social Media and next thing you know your business has gone viral, even if the statements and opinions are less than accurate or embellished. A negative spotlight can illuminate a company in the blink of an eye and it must respond. Silence is not an option! It can take years for a business to build a positive reputation in the market and only a matter of hours to have it destroyed. Businesses need to have a crisis management plan in place before a crisis even happens. The timing and technique is crucial. Who will provide the response? Have they rehearsed their response to ensure it is sincere and factual? How will it be communicated? Will you agree to appear on TV or radio if asked? According to PWC who conducted a crisis preparedness survey of 2,000 companies, 69% of respondents reported having dealt with a crisis in the past five years. The crises ranged from operational to reputational issues. Technology failures, cyberattacks, concerns with liquidity, product failures, etc. can happen to any company at any time. Astonishingly, 42% of the survey respondents reported they were in a better place post-crisis because they were prepared for it. The five key elements to their success were: allocated budgets for crisis management, having a rehearsed plan in place, adopting a fact-based approach, performing a root cause analysis with follow up post-incident, and acting as a united team with strong values.
Taking on a crisis alone can be a daunting task and if mishandled could destroy one’s brand and reputation. Much like having a good attorney and CPA on your side, having a good public relations firm on your side is yet another strategy to build strength in your brand. Public relations firms not only help build a proactive crisis management plan and provide support in an actual crisis, but they can also help navigate government red tape for projects and impact legislative bills that affect an industry. Living in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California, water rights are like gold. State and Federal bills that affect the availability of water not only impact the farming companies directly, they involve every single company, large and small, that support those agricultural efforts. One bill can change the tide, for better or worse, that impacts numerous employers and thousands of employees. Don’t get caught with your pants down, be proactive and have a plan. “Unfortunately, there seems to be far more opportunity out there than ability…. We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.” – Thomas A. Edison.