My former brand manager at Isle of Capri Casinos, Elissa Plastino, and I had a few routines and processes we depended on. One was that each May, we would update the crisis communications plan in preparation for hurricane season.
A decent, updated plan for a crisis should always be at the ready. On a personal note, I found myself without such a plan as Hurricane Ida set her sights on south Louisiana. Although that was a wake-up call for me, I did see businesses across New Orleans reopen (slowly for sure). After seeing the huge generators attached to almost all of these buildings, I knew their ability to reopen because they had a plan.
Certainly, 2020 was a wake-up call for businesses across the country. As the pandemic spread, businesses closed their doors, and employees found themselves struggling. Whether you think them good or bad, the aid packages served as a much-needed bandage until the next crisis.
Our Band-Aid came in the form of how we leaned in further to digital communication. However, I see us use offers so often as a Band-Aid to stem the flow of competitors stealing customers or play. It makes me wonder if any of us is ready for the next curve ball in a way that can still enhance our brands.
Some items should be in daily practice.
Be accountable for your company’s actions.
The No. 1 reason a crisis spirals out of control is because someone stepped into the spotlight and shifted the blame. Do you remember that United passenger being dragged off the plane? United’s CEO doubled down by praising employees for going above and beyond. I remember after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and how (in an effort—hopefully—to emphasize what a top priority cleanup was) the BP CEO said he was anxious to get on with his life. A high bar was set by JetBlue CEO David Neelan when an ice storm hit the East Coast, grounding nearly 1,000 flights. Voice cracking at times, he issued a public letter of apology that included words such as “humiliated” and “mortified” to describe himself. He never blamed the weather but rather introduced a customer bill of rights and a detailed outline of how the company would make things right.
Reframe your notion of an official spokesperson (and media outlets).
There was a time when one person in the organization was the official face and voice of the company. Rather than depending on an official spokesperson, today’s news comes to us from our friends and family. Your social media team is now the “official source.”
It is even more important now that these staff members have a pipeline to the correct information and be empowered to act and respond quickly. The days of waiting on news cycles and official press releases are gone. Today the customer is the journalist, and that journalist doesn’t necessarily take the time to fact-check. Your response team has to have the ability to respond quickly and with accuracy and empathy. The next time you watch a news program, count how often a fact is attributed to a source from social media.
The deeper part of preparing your team for a curve ball is making sure your entire team is on the same page. It helps with having to make quick changes, but more importantly, it can propel your business forward.
Understand who your customers are, are not and could be.
There is probably no industry that knows quite so much about its customers as the casino industry. We use a plethora of information to tailor marketing to appeal to those we know, but our customers could be anyone in a crisis. As marketers, we must know who we are pushing away with our message. Remember that BP example I mentioned? I will pass one of their stations up and never consider stopping in. I wasn’t their customer before, but now I don’t think I will ever be if I can help it. When a dear friend and business associate of mine participated in an annual Mardi Gras tradition, she made an off-handed remark that caused an uproar way beyond her friends and family to her customer base along with many unknown, future customers and fans. She quickly apologized, acknowledged her ignorance, and challenged her organization and herself for deeper understanding.
Continually prepare and improve your response.
There are several reasons you should be ready to respond.
- Biological occurrences such as the current pandemic.
- Accidents as simple as chemical spills and as extensive as fires.
- Bad actors (robbery, terrorism, etc.).
- Mother Nature such as wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, and floods.
- The tech-related crisis, which we see all too commonly now.
Whether you are preparing for a hurricane, pandemic, or an outbreak of food poisoning, preparation is key. It can safeguard your revenue, your reputation, your customers, and your team members.
On a personal note, having a crisis plan has been the most important lesson I learned this year. As I found myself on what the power company called an “island,” I, along with the whole of our community, found myself trying to figure out a Plan B quickly. Planning allows you to identify corporate and vendor partners and allows you to put certain things into a queue you hope never to use.