Stay Human

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I’m not one to kick a brand when it’s down. In fact, I cringe for the PR teams who handle crisis communications because I’ve been there. I’ve lived it. I know it’s not easy to neutralize negativity when a company disappoints people in a big, public way.

When you communicate during a crisis, you have to react quickly and stick to the facts. You have to show you care and frame what actions are underway to make things better. And, you have to make sure the tone of your response fits the seriousness of the situation.

The basics aren’t hard to grasp: If you know the company made a mistake, you apologize. If you don’t know who was at fault or whether mistakes were made, you confirm that you’re investigating the situation. If people were hurt while in your company’s domain, you express concern in a realistic, believable way.

And, you do all of this while riding a storm of negativity that can swell from a spring shower into a Tsunami, depending on how the public reacts. I’ll give you two examples from recent days:

  • Pepsi
    Pepsi’s swift and humble response to the tone deaf ad it recently launched with Kendall Jenner showed they realized the mistake. They pulled the ad, clarified what they had hoped to say with the concept and apologized. They expressed what seemed like sincere regret. And, while they didn’t escape a flood of social media angst and snark (and ridicule from SNL), they made it clear that they care.
  • United Airlines
    The tone of United Airlines’ initial corporate statement this week didn’t seem to balance the level of anxiety and distress people felt — and still may feel — seeing a paying passenger being dragged from its plane. And, after a blitz of negativity across traditional and social media, they issued a more robust apology from the CEO this afternoon.

The communications teams supporting both of these brands had some tough work to do. They both experienced an ocean of bad reactions. And, they both responded.

So, when you learned about what happened and saw how they responded, what did you think? How did you feel?

My point is this: The brands who can be human in the face of mistakes, uncertainty, unfortunate circumstances and turmoil are more likely to win the hearts and minds of the people who matter most to them.