You can’t crisis-proof your business -- but here’s what you can do

You can’t crisis-proof your business -- but here’s what you can do

Tide Pods should be used for laundry only, people.

If last year taught PR pros anything, it’s how important it is to be prepared for a crisis.

2017 seemed to be a banner year for brands in turmoil. There was United. There was Pepsi. There was Equifax. And the list goes on.

What’s the takeaway? Brands should be thinking and planning ahead to prepare in the event a crisis does arise.

But, I’m betting that the folks over at Procter & Gamble could never have prepared for the crisis in which they now find themselves embroiled.

Teenagers are eating Tide Pods. Yes, EATING them.

The very first videos of this surfaced a few years ago, when teens issued an online challenge to eat a Tide Pod. While P&G was aware of—and concerned about—the challenge, they decided to avoid commenting for fear of calling more attention to it.

Then, the challenge resurfaced recently and became more widespread, with teens biting into the pods and challenging friends to follow suit. In just the first three weeks of 2018, there were 37 reported cases of poisoning due to the ingestion of laundry pods among teenagers.

The fad has picked up steam. Now there’s even a pizza designed to look like it’s covered in Tide Pods.

P&G felt it had no choice but to take action.

To help stem the damage, the brand took to social media, launching a campaign focused on safety. They hired NFL star Rob Gronkowski, who appears in a video the company has posted to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

The brand has also asked Facebook and YouTube to remove clips of teens eating the product. This represents a step beyond normal operating procedure for social media platforms who usually look to users, not brands, to flag objectionable content.

Of course, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened to an unsuspecting brand. A Wall Street Journal article recalls an incident when teens were putting Burt’s Bees lip balm on their eyelids to “feel a sensation akin to a high.” There have also been social media challenges involving cinnamon and bath salts.

This underscores an important issue for communicators.

With the popularity of social media and consumers creating their own content, it’s become increasingly difficult for brands to control their images in the digital world. And, it’s impossible to predict when a crisis may occur or what it may entail. While some crises may be avoidable, others simply can’t be foreseen.

So, what’s a brand (and its PR team) to do?

Do what you can to prepare. Have a crisis response plan in place. A basic crisis communications plan encompasses elements like:

  • Designate a crisis team who can quickly assess the situation and its potential damage before communicating to key audiences.
  • Issue an apology. Make sure to assume responsibility. It should be genuine.
  • Take steps to make it right. Follow through.

And, of course, the importance of building and maintaining a strong reputation can’t be emphasized enough. If a brand has built enough goodwill with customers, it can withstand a crisis. Reputation building is essential in a day and age when ANYTHING can happen. Like the Tide Pod challenge.

In an Ad Age article, Stephen Hahn Griffiths, chief research officer of the Reputation Institute, says that debacles are easier to overcome if the brand already has established itself as a "good corporate citizen."

Fostering goodwill ahead of a controversy by sharing stories around brand values and social responsibility can help, Griffiths says.

If you’ve done a good job of nurturing a community of fans and followers, they can help by coming to your defense—which can be even more effective than the brand trying to defend itself in times of crisis.

While Procter & Gamble’s Tide Pod crisis serves as a cautionary tale, it shouldn’t scare brands who are staying out in front of potential crises by preparing appropriately and focusing on reputation management. Brands that pay attention to their reputations by remaining in the public eye with positive news and stories can weather tough times.

You'll find Michelle Messenger Garrett at the intersection of PR, content marketing and social media. As a public relations consultant, content creator, blogger, speaker and award-winning writer, Michelle’s articles and advice have been featured in Entrepreneur, Muck Rack, Ragan’s PR Daily, Meltwater, Spin Sucks, Freelancers Union and others. She was named a Top 100 PR Influencer by Onalytica. Michelle also serves on the advisory board of Women in PR USA.

*Photo via Pixabay

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