It was the emissions test heard round the world. Now dubbed DieselGate, the discovery of Volkswagen’s attempt to outsmart American diesel emissions testing with software designed to trick the system has become one of the largest scale business crises in recent history.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Volkswagen had outfitted some cars being sold in America with devices in diesel engines that would detect when they were being tested and change the performance accordingly to improve results.
VW will now face the consequences: recalling nearly half a billion cars in America alone, potential fines of up to $18 billion from the EPA, and a potential criminal investigation from the Justice Department.
But, one of the highest costs they will face is the loss of consumer confidence in their brand. AdWeek even went so far as to say that Volkswagen “squandered 55 years of great advertising.”
Hopefully, your brand will never face a crisis this large, but every brand can and should prepare to face a crisis head on. A crisis could be anything from a defective or failed product, a man-made or natural disaster, an injury, an unhappy customer, or a bad piece in the press. In the age of the Internet you don’t have to be a large business to cause a national story, as anyone who recognizes the names Amy’s Bakery or Memories Pizza will know.
Moving quickly is key. PR Newswire recommends a three-step approach. First, determine all potential scenarios you may encounter and inform your team members of what their roles would be in addressing each one.
Next, find a message and stick to it. Consistency is key in a crisis, you need to be able to confidently deliver the same message over and over to telegraph a sense of calm and control during a rocky time.
Remind consumers that the reason this crisis is so shocking is that it feels out of step with the brand they have come to know and trust – because it is. Recommitting to the values of your company, and making them central to your crisis message is key as you start a dialogue with customers.
Then once your team and message are prepared, respond. Your first inclination may be to apologize, which in some instances is the right move. Not every situation will require a public apology, but every situation will require a response that acknowledges and addresses the situation at hand in a considerate way.
Your response should be sincere, commit to understanding and remedying the situation, and take place where the crisis happened – whether that means on social media, in the local paper, or the national press. As a crisis escalates it is important to continually decide what stories you are willing to elevate with a response.
If a company has a presence online, it’s likely the crisis will play out in parallel on social media. You can use that to your advantage by directly connecting with the customers whose trust you need to gain back. The PR Council has compiled a helpful guide on how to address a crisis online.
Consider enlisting the help of a proven public relations firm to help you craft your response. A PR agency most likely has more experience and objectivity and can offer valuable insight to handling a crisis.
Businesses are run by humans, and humans make mistakes. No company is infallible. In fact, it’s likely you can name the biggest threats facing your company right now. Those threats are the ones you should create plans to address. Not every company will face a crisis, but all companies can be prepared to overcome one.
If you are in need of public relations assistance, please contact us at www.BuddinghAssociates.com
Jeanne M. Buddingh is founder and partner in Buddingh & Associates, Inc., an award-winning strategic marketing consulting firm in Naperville, IL. Contact her at (630) 961-4504 or visit www.BuddinghAssociates.com.