Do you have a fire plan? Three tips to surviving high-stakes communications events

It’s every marketer’s nightmare. All your hard work building brand identity and customer relationships ruined by some unforeseen public scandal. Mylan Vu’s advice? A failure to plan is a plan to fail.

Mylan Vu 150 BWEvery day, we’re seeing more and more headlines that bring companies, industries and even whole markets to their knees. Action or inaction taken around high-stakes issues such as data security, gender equality, diversity and political changes can make or break a brand’s reputation. A brand built over decades can be destroyed in a single moment.

With the proliferation of social media and the rise of hyper-connectivity, consumers are increasing their engagement with brands. We are now living in a post-B2B era, where brands are no longer communicating only to consumers or business leaders, but where marketers need to treat each member of their audience as a unique individual with different needs and life stages.

A recent study conducted by Hotwire Australia, ‘High-Stakes Leadership in a Post-B2B World’, revealed Australian marketing leaders are more likely to be involved in a high-stakes communications event (72%) compared to that of their global counterparts (58%t). This makes Australia a hotbed of issues in need of diffusion and leaves marketing leaders in a uniquely vulnerable state.

Australian marketers need to have a framework in place that acts as a compass for their brand when navigating a high-stakes landscape. Here are three principles to stick by when managing a high-stakes communication event:

It’s never too early to plan 

One of the strongest remedies for business or communications crises is a robust plan that is developed, approved, and tested in advance. Disturbingly, while 72% of marketing leaders in Australia have run campaigns based on high stakes issues, 30% do not have a current and up-to-date organisational plan.

With digital disruption and other changes happening across all industries, brands need to maintain a comparably agile and flexible approach to future-proofing their business against crises. Marketers need to work with their brands and internal stakeholders to devise a plan that takes ‘constant change’ into account. Without an up-to-date high stakes contingency plan in place, marketers will have a hard time protecting the image of the brands they’ve worked so hard to build.

Would you rather have a plan and not need it, or need a plan and not have it?

A purpose without values is meaningless

 A brand’s purpose must be backed by the alignment and practice of the company’s values. This is because 77% of Australian consumers align their spending habits to their personal values. A further 87% of consumers would consider ditching a product or service from a brand that handles a high-stakes issue in a way that violated their personal values.

This puts an impetus on brands to be more than just products and services – brands need to be meaningful to consumers, now more than ever. Consequently, brands need clearly defined organisational values that are regularly echoed and communicated to all stakeholders.

A values-backed purpose is like armour in a high-stakes communication event as consumers are more loyal to purpose-driven brands and more likely to defend them when they come under fire.

Silence isn’t always golden

Sometimes not saying anything can be worse than saying something. Consumers today want brands to take a stand on a variety of high-stakes issues including sexual harassment and mental health. In fact, according to the study, 36% of consumers would be repelled from an organisation if it handled a sexual harassment scandal poorly. Brands that fail to speak truthfully about a mistake breed mistrust.

Beyond the needs of consumers lies the business sector – such as business partners, vendors, investors and shareholders. This segment is not any more forgiving than consumers. If an organisation does not respond to a high-stakes communications event within two-to-three days, 48% of Australian business decision makers would terminate their relationship with that organisation.

This highlights the importance of a timely response, and again, the importance of having an extensive and well-practiced communications and crisis plan in place that is ready to use across the organisation; rather than relying on the gut feelings of those closest to the issue at hand. An effective plan, combined with a clear business purpose reinforced by corporate values, will ensure a brand starts on the right foot in any high-stakes communication event and mitigate any negative brand impact.

Mylan Vu is managing director of Hotwire Australia

 

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Image credit:Stephen Radford