Don’t let your crisis management give your rivals the last laugh

“The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow,” said HG Wells. So which marketers are now able to crack a smile after employing crisis management strategies in 2013?

Ruth Mortimer

Tesco is judged to have done the best job of communicating during a crisis this year, according to new research from consultancies Open Road and Populus that ranks brands according to their crisis management response. Tesco’s strategy – which involved an email response from chief executive Philip Clarke and a dedicated website to keep people updated on the horsemeat scandal – was seen as the best response to a crisis overall by a group of more than 2,000 respondents, both consumers and ‘opinion formers’.

Asda, Aldi and Iceland are ranked in second, third and fourth place, again for their dealings with the horsemeat scandal. Outside the supermarkets, the BBC, although heavily criticised about its former presenter Jimmy Savile, is ranked fifth.

It’s good to see crisis strategies paying off but among the successes are those which consumers deem to be “poor” responses. Wonga is rated worst for how it has dealt with the public furore over payday loans, followed by News International (phone hacking), Starbucks (tax), G4S (Olympics staff provision failure) and Google (also tax).

This list demonstrates some interesting trends. First, those brands that communicate regularly with customers in general tend to do better. Having an established relationship with consumers seems to make it easier for the crisis messaging to make an impact.

Second, consumers are prepared to forgive even quite serious issues – such as the horsemeat scandal – when brands acknowledge the problem. Responses that fail to treat a situation as a major issue tend to be far more unpopular – Google’s Eric Schmidt initially said the company’s criticised tax policies were simply “capitalism”.

Third, don’t ignore social media. The research shows that nearly a third of the opinion formers would ignore a negative news story about their brand on social media, just over a third would wait to see if it was picked up more widely and just over a quarter would actually respond immediately. However, far fewer would ignore or wait if a negative story cropped up on TV, a news website, newspaper or radio. This is despite the same opinion formers admitting they see Twitter as a regular source of information.

So three easy rules: talk to your customers so you know them and how best to reach them in the event of a crisis; acknowledge the problem; and don’t let it fester on social media without response. Don’t let your crisis management become a joke.