January 15th, 2016
The recent media backlash from Chipotle’s E. coli outbreak is another reminder that every company – public or private, large and small, for-profit or non-profit – should anticipate a crisis in its business at some point and be prepared to handle it quickly.
Those that have a plan and act quickly will mitigate the media thrashing and business impact. Those that don’t may not rebound, and if they do, earning trust back could take a long time.
Product recalls, employee misconduct, poor labor practices, and safety issues are just a few examples of how a brand can be tarnished overnight. A crisis situation is exacerbated when a company does not have a communication plan in place to act swiftly; an obvious lack of planning erodes public trust and confidence.
When an adverse situation occurs, companies must act fast, acknowledge the issue, and address it with the utmost urgency. Having a crisis communication program enables a brand to get in front of the issue, take swift action and most importantly communicate early and often.
Social media, smartphones, photo and video apps can fan the flames of your brand’s wildfire. Conversely, they can help you, provided your company conveys empathy and is acting with genuine concern to resolve the issue.
Most companies finding themselves in a crisis situation don’t act fast enough largely because they are in denial or don’t have a process in place to gather information and communicate it effectively.
There are many places on the Internet to find a crisis communication playbook. The key to managing a crisis is understanding (and identifying) who is leading, in charge and serving as the spokesperson. The CEO should assume this role but each situation may require multiple resources to organize a plan and disseminate information.
Chipotle is in an interesting predicament because its marketing message, “food with integrity,” connotes that extra care goes into sourcing and preparing its menu items. Despite the near-term setback, industry experts believe Chipotle can bounce back. The company’s socially-conscious and environmentally-friendly mission should, over time, earn back the trust of its customers.
If Chipotle does experience another setback in the future, they better have a proactive communication plan in place; otherwise the food chain may not recover from a second chance.