Recently we had the chance to support one of our clients for a crisis PR case.
I was reminded how companies are often unprepared for a potential crisis – especially one that could involve their customers or the media. I guess it is some part wishful thinking – “it will never happen to us” type of mentality. In China, especially, things can spiral out of control very quickly – with WeChat being a major conduit of rumor and gossip. The facts can get very blurry – very quickly.
There are some examples that we’ve seen a lot – one is in the food and beverage category. What typically happens is that so-called “professional consumers” take advantage of China’s strict labeling and ingredient laws. These are “shoppers” who look for problems on food labels, such as incorrect translations or illegal additives that were overlooked (this happens a lot), and they get a payout for finding these mistakes. Imported brands, especially, are major targets. One small translation or printing mistake and your company could end up in the news.
We had one major client in the consumer electronics sector. A major consumer review website posted a horrible review of one of their products. It turns out that the product was not even available in China, and was an older, discontinued model. We offered to send all of the latest products for a new review – but it turns out the editor was really just looking for some blackmail advertising revenue. A few banner ads from us and he would make the bad article go away. Pretty nasty stuff. In this case we had to work to take back the narrative, especially internet news.
The point of those stories is that you might be doing everything right, but there are still ways to get fouled up. A good issues management process must encourage ownership, empower decision-making, and also provide helpful guidance and tools. The best issue management teams are multifunctional and work together to pro-actively address potential problems. Since many issues (but not all) are "outside-in", or come from external sources, it is vital to keep an eye on industry trends and threats (fantastic templates for mapping threats by Andrew Griffin in Crisis, Issues and Reputation Management).
What can a company with business in China do to prepare for potential crises?
- Develop a Good Plan
- Understand the Keys to Managing a Crisis
Steps to Develop a Good Crisis Plan
- Set up a Response Team – who is in the room and also how to contact any of the key people in an emergency.
- Identify Spokespeople and Train Them – if there is a chance that the media will want to interview someone, that person should go through media training.
- Develop Processes – build a decision tree and processes of who should do what, and when. Who has authority to make decisions?
- Prepare News Releases and Social Media Material in Advance – pre-written templates and releases will save time.
- Brainstorm Scenarios and Responses – go through all of the possible scenarios that might happen and role play the response. Horizon scanning and issues identification will help narrow down the potential issues.
- Ensure the Global Communication Team and Local PR team is on the same page and that all material is ready in Chinese.
Managing a Crisis
Here are some general tips to follow as you manage the crisis:
- Find out all of the Facts
- Be Transparent
- Move Quickly – if you need more time put out a holding statement
- Concern – show concern and compassion to the issue, do not avoid it or try to make excuses
- Action – tell exactly what you are doing to improve or fix the situation
Need help developing a crisis response plan in China? Drop us a line!