As we already know, crises can be very unpredictable so it’s important that organisations have a crisis communications plan to help deal with issues in the best way possible. We’ve analysed some examples – both good and bad – of how other companies have dealt with a crisis and what you can learn from each.
Starbucks is the largest coffeehouse company in the world, with over 27,000 chains active globally. In 2018, they came under fire for an incident wherein a Starbucks employee in their Philadelphia branch called the police on two black men who entered the restaurant, didn’t order anything and then refused to leave when asked.
Once the police arrived, the young men were arrested and taken out of the shop. The men later stated that they were having a business meeting and waiting for a third person to arrive before starting. Although they were later released due to a lack of evidence, there was an understandable public outcry over racial profiling, and calls to boycott the chain were backed by public protests outside the store.
Instead of ignoring the situation, Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson travelled to Philadelphia to apologise to the men face-to-face. He also came to an agreement with the two men, that was posted on their website and via social media.
Starbucks also fired the manager that was in charge of the restaurant and closed 8,000 of their chains in order to give their staff members’ implicit bias training. Whilst many people still ask why in 2018, this was allowed to happen in the first place, making a conscious effort to address the problem did stand in Starbucks’ favour, as share prices rose at the beginning of 2019.
We apologize to the two individuals and our customers for what took place at our Philadelphia store on Thursday. pic.twitter.com/suUsytXHks
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) April 14, 2018
As one of the world’s most famous reality TV stars, Kim Kardashian-West is used to breaking the internet. However, in June when she announced her new line of shapewear, she was unprepared for the backlash it would receive.
Her decision to call her line Kimono Intimates, and subsequent attempt to copyright the word Kimono, was slammed across social media due to its appropriation of the traditional Japanese clothing item. Speaking to the BBC one woman said “We wear kimonos to celebrate health, growth of children, engagements, marriages, graduations, at funerals. It’s celebratory wear and passed on in families through the generations.
“[This] shapewear doesn’t even resemble a kimono – she just chose a word that has Kim in it – there’s no respect to what the garment actually means in our culture.”
After the significant outcry from the public, Kim Kardashian-West withdrew her announcement for the new line, and took to Instagram to share that she would not be continuing with the Kimono brand, “I am always listening, learning and growing – I so appreciate the passion and varied perspectives that people bring to me.”
Whilst she didn’t outright apologise for the initial PR blunder, she did acknowledge the feedback given and changed her direction accordingly, relaunching the shapewear line under the name SKIMS in August, which we think it much better anyway.
The driving force behind every brand is its customer base, so listening to your audience is key in turning them from passive to active consumers
My fans and followers are a huge inspiration to me – I’m always listening to their feedback and opinions, and am so grateful they shared their ideas for a new brand name. After much thought and consideration, I’m excited to announce the launch of SKIMS Solutionwear™ pic.twitter.com/3bV5MwblDr
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) August 26, 2019
A good example of what not to do in a crisis is aeroplane manufacturer Boeing’s response to two crashes spanning 5 months, both involving its 737 max 8 planes. On 29th October 2018 Lion Air Flight 610 crashed in Indonesia, killing 189 people. Investigations opened up as to what had happened, however there was no statement from Boeing bosses regarding the deaths.
Then on 10th March 2019 Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 – another Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft – crashed, killing all 157 passengers and led to serious questions about the aircraft’s safety. When reports were issued that stated the problem was with the plane, rather than the airline or the pilots, countries began to ground all flights using a Boeing 737 Max 8.
It was only a week after the second crash that Boeing bosses issued a statement apologising to the families of those that were killed on board their aircrafts, and it was only this week, almost one year after the first crash, that it was announced people will begin to receive compensation.
By refusing to respond (even to initially apologise) the company came off as uncaring and arrogant. Speaking to Forbes, New York crisis communications expert Ronn Torossian said
“Boeing needs to do more. Show concern, sympathy and empathy. They need to continually stress safety, safety, safety, and that the planes won’t fly until they know what happened. The perception is that their arm got twisted [in the delay in grounding the aircraft in the US.] They need to communicate with the public. This is not a minor issue—this is as serious as it gets.”
Always show concern for your customers, whether it is something as serious as Boeing’s crisis, or something as small as a missed refund payment, it is important your customer feels as though they have a transparent relationship with your company, otherwise it will be a lot more difficult to return from a PR crisis.
Sportswear giant Nike has been outfitting Duke University’s basketball team, the Blue Devils, since 1993 with relatively no problems. However, that changed this year as star player Zion Williamson’s shoe exploded within the first minute of a game against North Carolina’s Tar Heels. The scene was on camera, and even former president Barack Obama could be seen from the bleachers mouthing “his shoe broke”.
Williamson was forced to leave the court with a knee injury, and the Blue Devil’s went on to lose the game. The blunder sent Twitter into a frenzy, with people commenting not only on the quality of the shoes, but also with concern for Williamson’s promising future within basketball. It also allowed other brands to jump on the bandwagon with some reactive PR.
It is important that, whilst tackling a PR crisis, you look at the root cause. If you only concern yourself with masking an issue, it will likely cause a problem for you again in the future.
What can we learn from the ways these companies deal with crisis?
Zion’s shoe: destroyed 😳 pic.twitter.com/LqQ2te0Jay
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 21, 2019
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