Putting the brakes on a crisis….

Does an issue become a crisis when everyone finds out about it? That might be the question Toyota executives are asking themselves as their ability to put the brakes on both their cars and the runaway damage to their reputation is called into question.

Now, I know I’m not the only one (unfortunately for Toyota) to harp on about their problems, but the lesson here it would seem is about identifying those issues in a business that have the potential to become a crisis at some point in the future. Effective crisis management is not simply about dealing with a crisis once the media is baying at the door of your company HQ – crisis planning should have happened long before any crisis breaks out.

That said, what to do then when the issue does finally sashay down the catwalk in its full crisis wardrobe and the traditional media, ably supported by their online cohorts, Twitter, Facebook, You Tube et al, line up to unleash their collective ire on your company’s brand?

The tactics may change but the strategy doesn’t
Given the speed of the new media world, the tactics of crisis management have changed but the strategy hasn’t. Never underestimate the power of quick and decisive action and a simple hands up, we made a mistake. There will be pain in the short term, but we’re all human and mistakes happen. Many of us are prepared to forgive mistakes but not many forgive a lack of honesty at the outset and a failure to act and be decisive.

The instinct to try and cover up bad news is very strong; ask a lawyer, or even an ostrich, but all the evading tactics won’t do anything to save the long term damage to your brand and may well simply make it worse.

Honesty is the best policy
David Letterman (he of US Late Show fame) may be the best recent example. Held to ransom by a blackmailer threatening to release news of Letterman’s indiscretions, he fronts up and admits it all, live on air. What could be more honest and candid than that? It doesn’t absolve him from any indiscretion, but it wins him many people’s respect and gives him a much better chance of rescuing a battered reputation.

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