June 18, 2016

How Brands Get Content in Crisis Communications Wrong

At no other time are the stakes higher for your brand than during a crisis, and at no other time do brands miss an enormous opportunity. How do they get content wrong? Hint: they don’t have any.

The brand might have a crisis communications plan, even a robust, practiced one, but I guarantee they won’t have related content to push out to assert their viewpoint or response. And if there is no content, the interwebs will fill the void with its own. BP learned this the hard way.

Create your own crisis communications content to avoid examples like this
Unauthorized Twitter User Pretends to be BP

Let’s take a step back. Here’s the typical timeline of any and all business disasters:

It’s Sunday morning at 1 a.m. and your entire PR team and executive team are on vacation in Katmandu and staying in a hut with no cell service. This is always when an employee back home does something shockingly dumb, or mean, or when some yahoo decides to hack your system. At 6 a.m. your company finds the right people to put out a press release. At 9 a.m. you’re doing and interview on the Today Show. (please, please tell me you’re ready to do an interview and not telling them the dreaded “No comment.”) Then the news cycle repeats your misfortune 25/7 for the foreseeable future, continually damaging your brand, until some other unluckiness befalls someone else and the coverage finally shifts.

You can avoid this. Take a proactive approach! Domino’s famously didn’t wait to release a statement and rebounded quickly from a possible PR disaster.


You can take advantage of the fact that crisis communications tends to stem from these key areas:

  1. Internal breaches (an employee releases info he shouldn’t or does something immoral or illegal)

  2. External data breaches (some yahoo gets access to info he shouldn’t)

  3. Health/Safety issues

Now, prepare content with key messaging to fit the most likely scenario that will most greatly impact your business.

Just as companies are really trying to be good Boy Scouts and be prepared for anything in crisis communications, they should prepare with content, including video. When I say this to clients, they say, “But how would we know what would happen? How could we create relevant content in advance?” Really? As a company you know your biggest risks. If you’re a restaurant chain or grocery store, it’s food safety. If you’re a hospital, it’s germs. And medical malpractice. Churn out content that directly addresses these issues.

This content can include:

  • Infographics on your safety or security process

  • Blogs

  • Photography (of your crisis training sessions, of your teams that inspect health and safety issues, etc.)

  • Social posts

  • Video

Video can be the cornerstone of getting your message out quickly and with enormous emotional impact. People believe people, not news releases. Rather than attempting to polish your response live on air, video gives you the opportunity to hone your key messaging and know what you’re going to say in advance.

You don’t have to talk directly about this current crisis! That’s the beauty of this approach. Your employees can talk about your company’s crisis communications plan and training in general, how seriously they take consumer safety, and how they’re proud to work for a company who cares. You can produce another video about your company culture, how respected employees feel in the workplace, and about the company’s mission and values. You can produce video about your company’s sustainability efforts, and cause marketing, all of which organically put your company in a favorable light. And you need to be pushing out “good” news, because without it, a void will be filled with a whole lot of “bad” news in the court of public opinion.

(Also, all of this video content should be unscripted (no Teleprompters) so the message comes across as authentic and not forced, because the last thing your company needs in times of trial is to seem disingenuous.)

And the best part about creating this video content? It’s evergreen. Whether you choose to release it today or a year from now, this video is as fresh and pertinent as the day you made it. Then, you can choose to release the videos one at a time, and re-release if a business blunder occurs, or you can sit and hold one or two in the event a crisis happens down the line.

Wait. What? The last push-back I know I’m going to get is on the expense. Video ain’t cheap. No one wants to make a video, or series of videos, or any other content, and sit on them. But ask yourself, do you prepare with a crisis communications plan? Spend a fortune on creating it, practicing it? Create templates and what-if scenarios? Then why wouldn’t you do the same for crisis communications content, when it could do the most good? The ROI could be exponential. And what’s the price to your brand if you don’t?

Disagree with me? Great! I’d love to hear from you. Hit us up on social. Email me. Especially if you’d like help creating a content strategy.