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Crisis Management: Best and Worst Ways Companies Handled Crises in 2023

4 Mins read

From economic downturns to international conflicts, 2023 was a year full of crises, and many companies felt the impact of these global situations and their own internal crises. However, not all crisis responses are equal; some companies handle their crises better than others.

So, what lessons can business owners learn from the crisis responses of 2023?

Strong crisis response plans

The most important thing that any PR professional will tell you about a crisis response is that it must be planned and prepared in advance. Although it’s not possible to plan for every situation that may arise, it’s much easier to have a generalized plan you can adapt to the unique circumstances than coming up with a response from scratch in the moment. So, businesses should develop a crisis communications plan early in their life cycle and during a calm time.

A crisis communication plan allows businesses to respond promptly when a crisis arises. Timing is everything in crisis communication. Taking action quickly can help prevent the crisis from escalating or even de-escalate it. Businesses should also designate a crisis response team or point of contact early to facilitate decision-making.

That said, businesses should show adaptability and flexibility in a crisis. No two situations are the same, and no matter how well-planned you are, problems will catch you off-guard. Rigid approaches can worsen a crisis by making the business look like they don’t care about the crisis or its impact on its customers and stakeholders.

Transparency is another critical factor for success in crisis communications, which is why businesses should strive to keep stakeholders and the public informed in every step of the crisis and its resolution. Most importantly, never make something up. It’s better to admit that you don’t have all the answers and are working to find them than to lie, as that could lead to an even bigger crisis and damage your reputation when the lie is debunked.

Finally, after the crisis has passed, businesses should take the opportunity to learn and improve, hopefully preventing themselves from repeating the same mistake. Analyzing the aftermath of a crisis allows business leaders to identify strengths and weaknesses in the organization and its response, allowing them to prepare for future events.

A few examples of businesses that responded well to crises in 2023 include:

  • BP: Ever since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, BP has faced an image crisis. However, the company has committed to improving its environmental impact, showing that it learned from the crisis. Their release of an optimistic report of their net zero ambition is a perfect example of how they are generating positive PR in light of the mistakes they made in the past.
  • Oatly: The oat milk brand Oatly took a tongue-in-cheek approach to crisis management, creating a website called “F*ck Oatly,” where it acknowledges and addresses the criticisms that have been levied against the company. This is a crucial step showing that the brand is taking accountability for its actions while creating a humorous and approachable brand image. The brand even created another website where customers can visit to voice their displeasure at the “F*ck Oatly” crisis management campaign.
  • Google Black-owned Friday: Google’s fourth annual Black-owned Friday campaign was a successful way of showing that the company supports causes that are important to the community. Despite the recession and the criticisms levied against Google, the mega-corporation invested in small business owners, boosting its reputation and image.

Weak crisis response plans

On the other hand, a poorly organized crisis response plan can cause stakeholders and the public to lose their trust in the organization. If it doesn’t feel like the crisis response is cohesive — for example, different people are saying different things — this could create confusion or even panic that could destroy the business’s reputation.

One of the worst mistakes an organization can make in a crisis is to ignore or deny the issue. Disregarding or downplaying the crisis can lead to even worse damage and a loss of credibility. At the same time, businesses must not overly apologize, which implies significant guilt and draws greater scrutiny and criticism.

Indeed, focusing on blame for the situation is inadvisable, as assigning blame to others can cause conflicts and impede progress toward an actual resolution. Additionally, some stakeholders and members of the public could see blaming others as deflecting and refusing to take responsibility, which could negatively affect the trustworthiness and credibility of the business.

A delayed response can also hurt the organization. Even if the delay is due to another reason, it will look like you are stalling. Instead, if you are not ready to fully address all of the issues and concerns the public has about the crisis, it’s better to acknowledge the situation and that you are working to resolve it. A vague but sincere response is better than no response at all.

Businesses must not repeat the mistake that landed them in the crisis in the first place. While many consumers are quick to forgive and forget a mistake, the adage “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” rings true. Consumers will begin to distrust businesses if they have a history of making the same mistake repeatedly, as it shows they are not learning and moving forward.

2023 also showed us a host of unsuccessful crisis responses that businesses and communications professionals can learn from:

  • Royal Family: Prince Harry laid it into the Royal Family in a Netflix special, and his memoir at the beginning of 2023, and the Royal Family has struggled to recover. The historical crisis response of the English monarchy is one of silence, as action is often deemed “undignified.” Still, the result is that Prince Harry’s claims have gone unrefuted and unchallenged. Silence can be a purposeful strategy, but it’s not working in this case.
  • Silicon Valley Bank: The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank is one of the most high-profile communications flubs in the past year. SVB was about to enter a crisis and issued a press release trying to raise funds, but it had the opposite effect, causing a run on the bank. This is an example of timing and planning being critical, as changing the message or timing of the press release could have prevented the collapse.

Crisis communication will never be easy, but with a well-planned response in place, businesses can be prepared to handle the challenges that may come their way. Learning from the mistakes and successes of other companies during their crises is a great way to create an effective plan.

Thomas Mustac is Otter PR‘s medical and health industry PR specialist.

Management stock image by GaudiLab/Shutterstock

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