The importance of sticking to the plan when a crisis occurs

Paul Mackenzie Cummins

In this article, Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, Founder of digital marketing agency Clearly PR, looks at how an effective communication plan can help your business bounce back from a crisis.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Antony Jenkins. He became CEO of Barclays in the wake of the Libor scandal that saw his predecessor Bob Diamond forced to resign in disgrace. Jenkins had a heck of a task on his hands.

Barclays was accused of acting irresponsibly, customer trust was almost eradicated, and the words ‘fraudulent’ and ‘greedy’ hung over it like a hangman’s noose waiting to claim its next victim. When I asked how he was able to successfully regain stakeholder confidence and shift perception of the bank, he simply replied: ‘When crisis strikes, tell it first and tell it fast.’

When the reputation of the business is being called into question, it is easy to sit it out in the hope that the crisis will soon blow over and soon be forgotten. It is very easy, yes, but incredibly foolish and risks irreparable reputational damage.

Equally, there are those who have been brilliant in showing others how a crisis should be managed in a way that positively shapes – even enhances – public perception. Take McDonald’s as a case in point.

The burger behemoth faced widespread public backlash after delaying its decision to cease trade in Russia in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. With momentum gaining to boycott the brand, McDonald’s managed their communications superbly well.

In a statement, McDonald’s explained that the decision was not a simple choice of either black or white. Rather, they pointed out that the company employs 62,000 people in Russia and Belarus whose livelihoods they are responsible for. Not to mention the innumerable community and social initiatives the company supports that would lose out by any withdrawal.

McDonald’s avoided taking a knee-jerk reaction like many of their competitors and opted for a well-reasoned decision-making process. As a result, they won more supporters than detractors.

A crisis doesn’t always spell disaster. The key is in being aware of the issues that might affect it, preparing for all possible outcomes, and ensuring there is a sound crisis communications plan in place. In doing so, organisations can navigate any storm and steer themselves towards calmer waters without inflicting any long-lasting damage to their reputation or bottom line.