The four As of crisis communication

27/04/2021 17:33:11

In a somewhat unexpected reaction to a sensitive subject, the coverage of Prince Philip’s death led to a record 100,000 complaints in April.

The Royal Family is never far from scandal and will always have its critics, but it seems many companies missed the mark when it came to broadcasting national mourning. Over in the television world, viewers complained about their scheduled programmes being moved.

Meanwhile, in an apparently well-intentioned website change, National Rail also came under fire. The ticketing site chose to mark the prince’s death by changing its site to a temporary greyscale design. It was soon met with criticism as browsers were quick to mention accessibility issues.

Akin to Prince Philip himself, no company is immune to making ‘gaffes’. What’s important, however, is how we handle them. In the PR world, we recommend following the four As: Admit, Apologise, Action and Amend.

1. Admit it

We’re all human. The best thing to do is be transparent about it, rather than trying to brush your transgression under the carpet. A National Rail spokesperson said: “We are listening to feedback about how people are using the website and are making further changes today to make it more accessible to all our customers.”  Just as you should respond to a bad review, you should let your customers know you’re listening.

Apologise2. Apologise

It’s one thing to acknowledge a mistake; it’s another to apologise. A representative for Network Rail has since said sorry for the oversight, while the BBC took a different approach, claiming they were “proud” of the coverage. The latter is likely to ruffle a few feathers, but to the BBC’s credit, they did take action – the next of our 4 As.

3. Action

Just as National Rail changed their website back, the BBC agreed to make a formal announcement about its complaints report. While an apology is the first step, you also need to take action to mitigate the impact of the mistake, and assure your audience it won’t happen again.

Burger King learned the hard way in March after making a misstep on International Women’s Day. Their now infamous “women belong in the kitchen” tweet was intended to raise awareness of the gender disparity of professional chefs. Following their apology, they deleted the tweet, saying that they “did not want to leave the space open for abusive comments”.

KitKat4. Amend

Once you’ve mitigated the damage, there are steps you can take to get the public back on-side. One classic example is our client, Cutwel, who came under fire after a half-eaten KitKat accidentally made its way into a customer’s order.

After apologising, Cutwel took it on the chin and sent out free KitKats with every order for a week after the incident. They didn’t try to hide from it – they owned up and even managed to add a touch of humour. When appropriate, this can actually reverse fortunes for your business!

Above all, remember that the general public are fickle, and they’re human, too. Don’t try to hide your mistakes – take responsibility and use them to be better next time. Your customers will thank you.

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