In a crisis – communication is all.
This is not just communication with the media but with stakeholders too. Battening down the hatches, ignoring phone calls and retreating from the mounting clamour – is the very worst thing to do – however tempting.
This is a lesson that the £50 million a year meat supplier – Russell Hume learnt to its cost last week.
The crisis for the meat supplier began after a Food Standards Agency’s unannounced inspection found instances of “serious non-compliance”with food hygiene regulations across Russell Hume’s business. At this point there was radio silence from the meat supplier to explain the nature of the problem or steps put in to remedy the situation.
The pub chain Wetherspoons announced to the world not only that it had pulled all Russell Hume products from its 900 pubs but also that they too, as a major customer, had been kept in the dark by the supplier. Russell Hume would not even answer their phone calls.
Eddie Gershon, a spokesman for the pub chain, told the BBC: “Russell Hume have not been forthcoming whatsoever in letting us know what’s going on and now, 72 hours later, the only information we have is coming from the FSA.”
It took a full three days after the recall of its products for Russell Hume to respond with a statement criticising the FSA and pointing to their “unblemished record” over its 50 year history.
By this time their customers – pubs, restaurants, holiday companies and providers of school and hospital catering – had found alternative suppliers.
It is generally true that it is not the crisis that ruins reputations but the handling of the crisis.
The very humane response by Merlin to the high profile roller-coaster crash was exemplary. By contrast the carbon monoxide poisoning of two children, while on a Thomas Cook holiday – revealed a callous response by the company. Thomas Cook failed to issue a apology with several former employees refusing to answer questions at the inquest into the children’s deaths.
When companies go into defence mode, they all too often lose their humanity.
WHAT TO DO IN A CRISIS
- Issue a statement (either in person or written) explaining the facts – if you don’t the vacuum will be filled by others
- Demonstrate your empathy and understanding for distress caused
- Show action you have taken
- Put this in context with your company’s history and independent scrutiny of the business.
- Batten down the hatches
- Give information that hasn’t been verified
- Blame others
- Accept as fact information given by others without checking