Tips for Small Businesses When Managing a Crisis

With the recent outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, many businesses and organizations are panicking on what this means for their business and their growth opportunities for the remainder of 2020.  How does a small business owner prepare for a recession or an economic crisis?  Below are 6 tips for managing a crisis or potential downturn in the economy. 
1.) Don’t panic.  This sounds very simple, but extremely important.  So often, we become reactive, instead of proactive.  Our response to a crisis will often determine how we manage, how large the crisis becomes and how much it affects our business and clients.  Although we may have some anxiety, we know there are always opportunities within a crisis. 

2.) Look for the Opportunity.  As you stand back and look at the crisis or problem, which issues are not being addressed?  If you do not know your clients or industry well, this may be a challenge for you. (HINT: Know your clients and your industry).  What can you contribute or solve?  Get creative and gain a different perspective about the issues at hand. 

3.) Feel Your Clients Pain.  What are your clients/customers feeling right now?  Are their businesses on hold? Are they doing well (some businesses are thriving right now)?  Will they need to focus on other issues for a short time? Whatever the pain or issue, know it.  Feel it… and then act accordingly.  

4.) Talk to Your Clients:  If your business or society is facing a crisis, assess the situation by speaking directly with your clients.  Ask about their concerns and effectively communicate how you are dealing with a crisis.  Clients want to know that they can still trust that their business is being handled. 

5.) Be a Thought Leader: This is the time to show your value and expertise to your audience, if applicable.  If there is any aspect you know about the crisis, now is the time to write, blog, speak and teach about the subject in various ways. Look at the situation from different angles and determine how you can be of value to your clients.

Lessons from Subway vs. Jared: How Will Your Company Handle Crisis?

Many of you have heard about the recent Subway marketing and public relations crisis.  The famous spokesperson, Jared, plead guilty of pornography charges, as well as having sex with minors.  The investigation has been brewing over the past couple of years and Subway distanced itself from him when learning of the news.  Yesterday the court finally made their decision about Jared. Subway responded with a simple tweet and post:  “We no longer have a relationship with Jared and have no further comment.”

There were definitely some missteps of Subway during this crisis, such as responding with “no comment” at one time or not quickly developing another marketing campaign to move attention away from the Jared Fogle situation.  Definitely some missed opportunities.

What are some lessons we can learn from how Subway responded to this crisis in their business? There may be a time when your company, church or organization faces a public relations nightmare.  It can range from an illegal situation, sexual scandal to a simple inappropriate post or tweet by a leader of your organization. What will you do?

Here are a few things to remember:

  • Act fast and be transparent. Often brands are criticized for this, such as the many brands and companies associated with Bill Cosby. There are many that believe people should wait until the legal process has played out before a company severs ties.  Hertz waited during the OJ Simpson murder trial.  They waited until he was charged before ending their relationship with him.  Their sales plummeted and took years to turn around. If there is a mistake or PR crisis, be quick to apologize and remove yourself from the situation.  If there is a hint of creating excuses or “let’s wait and see” – your customers, clients or members may not respond well.
  • Never underestimate the power of social media. Subway knew the power of social media, which is why they quickly used Twitter and Facebook to state their position. Many people scoff at using social media for their businesses or organizations, however, when used properly – even in bad circumstances, this platform has the power to be a megaphone for many.
  • Be Transparent. If you or your company/organization is in the midst of controversy, tell your story.  You do not need to give all the details, however silence is dangerous. One of the major rules in public relations: do not give people a chance to form their own story or opinion about what happened. Tell as much as you can.  If not, human nature will cause us to write our own scandalous story about what happened.
  • Do not build your entire marketing strategy on one person for a business, church or organization. Even with the best vetting and research, mistakes will be made. We often see this with churches. A church will focus so much on the pastor that when there is a fall, the whole marketing for the church suffers.  Be very careful.

Usually, with time and the correct approach to damage control, brands can eventually bounce back.

If you ever need help with crisis communication or brand identity, feel free to contact Lee Watts. We would love to help you connect the dots!