When you make a quick judgment and use one of these three common responses, it can have damaging effects if employed in the wrong way.
(1) Don’t be so quick to apologize.
For many, a natural reaction is to apologize whenever something goes wrong, but an organization employing an apology may suffer unintended ill effects. If whatever happened was completely out of the business’s control, it has now mistakenly implicated itself in the problem. If the spokesperson cannot deliver a sincere apology, the organization looks less trustworthy.
Perhaps the most famous apology-gone-wrong is that of BP CEO Tony Hayward after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, where he said, “I’m sorry. We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.” Hayward’s insincerity did not sit well with the masses of Gulf Coast residents and workers, who also desperately wanted their lives returned to normal. Apparently, BP also disagreed with his words, as the company replaced Hayward before the year was out.
Simply put, if you, as the face of an organization, are going to apologize, make sure that you do it sincerely and only when it is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you should consider other forms of crisis response, such as explaining the corrective measures that your company is taking to solve the problem.
(2) Don’t deny.
It’s also tempting to deny everything, which can often make your company look irresponsible and untrustworthy. Sometimes, denial can be as simple as an organization claiming that there is no crisis at all. In other instances, companies will try to move straight to the rebuilding process without admitting their guilt, and some businesses just attempt to blame others for their follies.
In 2013, Lululemon received backlash for yoga pants that were criticized for being “too sheer and pilling easily.” The athleisure company’s founder, Chip Wilson, claimed that, “some women’s bodies just actually don’t work” for the products. After implying that women with specific body proportions were not meant to wear the brand’s clothing, the founder of an athletic-wear company was accused of fat-shaming. His words and insincere apology, understandably, incited a PR mess for the brand’s communications staff.
Before you make a comment that you can’t take back, be sure to consider the responsibility that your company has over the crisis situation. Even if the problem is not entirely your fault, you should be assuring your customers that you are aware of the issues and are working to fix them in any way you can.
(3) Avoid using “no comment.”
Before you’re too afraid to say the wrong thing, consider the repercussions of saying nothing at all. A “no comment” response can either mean saying the exact words, “no comment,” or simply failing to answer a question or request for information.
There are specific instances where your organization will be tempted to utilize a “no comment” response. Sometimes a spokesperson will be legally barred from revealing the details of a crisis situation to the public. At other times, there is simply not enough information available for the spokesperson to comment on the crisis.
In any case, a “no comment” strategy can often show the organization in an unfavorable light, as the public wonders the following:
- Are they hiding something?
- Do they know that people are upset?
- Are they dealing with this situation?
- Do they even care?
Consider the 2015 Subway crisis surrounding Jared Fogle’s major indiscretions, when the sandwich company merely had this to say, “We no longer have a relationship with Jared and have no further comment.” By not addressing Fogle’s criminal activity any further, Subway created a tremendous amount of doubt in the minds of the public. This led to consumers wondering if, in the company’s silence, Subway was actually condoning Fogle’s actions.
With the 24-hour news cycle, we now have a constant need for information. So, it is of the utmost importance for organizations to understand that the public expects a response. If your company’s stance is not presented, the media will find other information to give out and potentially make you look bad. So, respond and be as transparent and honest as possible.
No matter the crisis or the company involved, you have to have a response. Instead of doing what seems easy, assess your situation quickly, but thoroughly, before releasing a statement.
It is important to make the public and the press aware that you are on top of the crisis, but you can’t assure them of that if you respond without thinking through your situation.
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