Is Your Marketing Team Prepared to Communicate in a Crisis?

December 8, 2021 Stuart Alexander

It may not be the most exciting topic in Marketing, but crisis communications are now a fact of life in business, especially in the era of Covid. How quickly, thoughtfully, and accurately your company responds can have tremendous impacts on your business’ success or failure.

Crisis situations can be intense, and never happen at a convenient time. Senior leadership is typically involved and there is mounting pressure to work quickly and drive for resolution. Customer service inquiries can spike. Social media posts can escalate your brand’s visibility and negatively impact your brand’s reputation. There can even be legal pressures requiring your company to respond with flawless accuracy. Your customers are watching you.

Here are some examples of crisis scenarios:

  • An email providing product discounts was sent to all contacts instead of a smaller set of intended customers, which had the potential to severely impact revenue
  • Malicious actors took steps to create system-wide outages for customer- facing applications
  • Malicious actors took steps to breach data and steal personal identifiable information (PII)
  • Manufacturing issues required customers to be notified of a product recall

Anyone that has a stake in corporate communications knows there are an incredible number of steps to successfully deploy an omni-channel campaign (email, text, push notifications, social media, service rep responses, press releases etc.). When a crisis strikes, having a solid plan of action is your best offense. 

Below are some actions to take when creating your corporate crisis communication plans:
 

1. Create a crisis team org chart that includes contact information and backups for out of office stakeholders.

Ambiguity of roles and responsibilities during a crisis can have devastating effects, whether it is inaction or improper action. To make matters even more complicated, authority and responsibility may change situationally depending on the crisis. The best first step is to ensure the chain(s) of command are documented, and contact information for all involved stakeholders can quickly be accessed (email, phone number, chat handles, etc.). Ensure this org chart is centrally accessed, routinely reviewed, and included as part of onboarding training for applicable stakeholders.
 

2. Brainstorm past and new potential crisis situations.

Make time to evaluate and document potential crisis situations BEFORE crisis strikes. Gather all applicable stakeholders to ensure you evaluate a diversity of perspectives and experiences. Perform market research on the types of crises similar companies have experienced in the public forum. Hire consultants that specialize in this area.   

Crisis communication may look different across verticals, and laws may impact how your company is required to respond. It is easy to remain rooted in the continual planning and execution that drives your marketing KPIs, but risk mitigation is also critical to your company’s long-term success.
 

3. Develop pre-defined and pre-approved omni-channel communication templates.

When you consider the process of writing emails, press releases, social media posts, and customer service responses, it takes an incredible amount of time and planning. In addition to content creation, content reviews and approvals require multiple stakeholders and rounds of revisions. Then, building and deploying the approved messaging in Marketing Cloud and other marketing platforms takes even more time, and requires quality assurance to ensure accuracy. 

You can save precious time by having pre-approved templates created in advance of a crisis. This is not to say your templates won’t require revisions with relevant, situational details, and approvals will still be needed; however, the goal is to be making tweaks, not starting from scratch. Most decisions, like who the communication is going to come from or the tone and manner of your writing, can be made ahead of time while your teams have a clear head and the time to debate the pros and cons.
 

4. Identify your audiences.

Any Marketer knows WHO you message can be just as important as WHAT you say. Some scenarios may be straightforward, and your audience is simply your All Subscribers list in Marketing Cloud.  But, identifying your audience may not be as straightforward with a product recall or a data breach. 

As your build out your crisis communication plans, consider the following:

  • Determine where your audience data will likely originate
  • Evaluate the available data to ensure you have the information required to effectively communicate with your customers
  • Document the process for building in the audience in Marketing Cloud
  • Define the data elements required for personalization
  • Define naming convention structures so  no mistakes are made at the time of sending
  • Determine the feasibility of pre-built audiences
  • Define your internal review and approval process for sending a crisis communication.

People inevitably make mistakes under pressure.  Clearly define a step-by-step review and approval process for each of your crisis communication plans and do not deviate from it. Urgency can create the temptation to cut corners, but a step-by-step plan removes any ambiguity as to how your associates are supposed to act in a crisis, and will allow you to hold them accountable to a plan that will create flawless execution.
 

5. Review and update crisis communications plans routinely.

We are all caught up in the day-to-day campaigns and planning for what’s next, but it’s important to routinely review your crisis messaging, processes and plans.  Proactively put meetings on calendars at a frequency that makes sense for your business (quarterly, bi-annually, annually), and have the discipline to keep your plans up-to-date. 
 

At Lev, we often work with companies while they make sweeping changes to their Marketing tech stack, and many are at the point of rewriting procedures to comply with new platforms, processes and corporate governance. Unfortunately, their ability to respond quickly in a crisis may be compromised as data, content, skill sets and processes are in flux. Whether you’re new to Salesforce Marketing Cloud or a matured power-user, Lev can help your marketing team build the right plans for success in a crisis.

Need help? Contact Us.

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