In this SmallBusiness monthly series of ‘Lessons Learnt’, Jennifer Janson, author of The Reputation Playbook and chairman of Six Degrees, will assess how a company recently in the news has handled a crisis, and provide top tips for small businesses to handle a similar incident in the best way possible.
If you have read any of my previous articles for ‘Lessons Learnt’, you might have gathered that I strongly recommend that any company prepares for a crisis situation, no matter how likely it is to actually happen. In this fast-paced world in which we live and work, new crisis scenarios appear every day, and each of them provide valuable lessons from which other businesses can learn.
Towards the end of last year, one of the UK’s largest and oldest low-cost airlines has become the latest case study for us to learn from. On October 1st 2017, Monarch, the longest-surviving UK airline, went out of business, leaving more than 100,000 people stranded at their holiday destinations. Interestingly, this example has lots of lessons about best practice rather than what NOT to do!
So, what can be learned from the downfall of Monarch?
Make sure you understand new communications expectations
One of the first rules of good crisis communications is to respond quickly. Ten years ago, a few hours would have been acceptable. Not so today, in our Internet age. In the Monarch situation, within an hour of the news breaking, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) stepped in with remarkable speed to offer a solution. They announced that everybody would be repatriated – making it clear there would be no cost to the customer – alleviating any worrying speculation among those who were stranded. There were written statements and they put a spokesperson forward for interviews with all mainstream media outlets, including the BBC’s Radio 4 Today Programme.
One has to believe that Monarch proactively sought the help of the CAA to prepare for the aftermath of the closure. If so, it was certainly a responsible thing to do in an undoubtedly horrific situation for the company. No one goes bankrupt by choice.
The speed at which the CAA responded is to be commended – and I believe has the potential to boost its own reputation. Government agencies are too often assumed to be slow-moving and evasive. In this case, the advice was clear and the action swift.
Provide clear and precise information
Being absolutely clear is key to handling the crisis well – even if you don’t have all the information. In this case, the CAA could not have been clearer about what was going to happen and when. But sometimes, you will be put in a situation where you don’t yet have all the answers. The key in these situations is to be transparent about what you DO know, and then be consistent with your updates.
Go above and beyond
If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ll know that we often refer to the hero, villain and victim that usually emerge in the media coverage of any crisis. In this case, it’s clear that the victims were those who were stranded outside the UK. And the CAA stepped up and played the role of the hero brilliantly.
You might argue that it is their job. Sure. But you can do your job, and then you can EXCEL at your job. In the case of the CAA, not only did it commit to getting everyone home (apparently the largest repatriation of Britons since the second world war), but it promised to do it at the same time as peoples’ previous scheduled flight. It doesn’t get any better than that when it comes to handling a crisis in my opinion.
Why not take the opportunity to brainstorm the unexpected – both good and bad. And to think about how you might play the hero in a given situation. We are not talking about ‘ambulance-chasing’ – your focus must be on your target audience, not your competition. These plans will inevitably become an integral part of your crisis communications approach. But delivery is key. Because planning is only the first step: when the crisis hits, you must execute your plan flawlessly if you want it to effectively protect your reputation, manage the situation and ensure that your company will still be left standing to tell the tale.