Hospitality Industry: Vulnerable to Crisis & Damage to Brand Reputation

Best Crisis Communications Firm in MichiganFood-borne illness. Product recall. Boycotts, strikes and layoffs. Alleged discrimination. If any of these critical issues involved your business, are you equipped to take the necessary steps to protect your brand?

At some point, all restaurants and hotels are faced with adversity—from a minor incident that goes viral and spreads like wildfire over social media to a major event that makes headlines and is splashed across radio, television, newspapers, and the internet.

The initial phase of a crisis is often characterized by confusion and intense interest by the media, employees, vendors, and the public at large. Given the speed news spreads on social media platforms and in the news media, having a crisis communications plan in place long before a crisis hits is a necessity. This can limit damage, preserve patron relationships, and restore brand reputation.

The most important thing to remember is time is of the essence in a crisis. The longer it takes to respond, the more damage to the brand. Critical time can be lost running responses through different decision makers, i.e., attorneys, management, ownership, and police departments. This time-lapse is amplified within the real-time, viral framework of social media. Messaging should be honest, transparent, convey empathy, and be true to the brand voice.

Steps to prepare for a crisis include:  detailing potential scenarios and recommended outcomes, drafting key messages corresponding to each scenario, having spokespeople who are media trained, and identifying internal and external stakeholders.
Make certain you communicate with your employees and vendors, whether in-person, by phone, or email. They need to be informed about the crisis, and front-of-house staff should be prepared to respond to guests with the approved media statement.

Be prepared to move swiftly via all communication channels, from the news media to your social media and web properties:

  • Responsiveness to the news media is vital. Know who your media outlets are and establish relationships with them. Return emails and calls from the media quickly. This is an opportunity to tell your side of the story and correct any inaccuracies.
  • A crisis response team member should be responsible for active listening and monitoring all social media channels. Pause pre-scheduled social media and post a response to the issue that is aligned with approved messaging. Respond to comments if they are inaccurate, but don’t argue on social media. This type of public discourse can alienate your followers and the general public, and inspire them to attack your brand.
  • Managing your website is important during a crisis. Consider posting a statement, and update and refresh content on your website to push down negative news in search results. Consider creating a “dark site” that can go live in a crisis to provide essential information.

A well-rounded crisis communications plan extends beyond the crisis itself. After a crisis, assess potential negative outcomes impacting brand perception, and focus on community relations activities, fortifying communications with your stakeholders and generating positive news about your organization.

Here are a few steps to help you prepare for a crisis situation.

  1. Assess your organization’s vulnerabilities. Determine where you are most open to attacks against your brand. This could include negative reviews on social media, foodborne illness or labor dispute.
  2. Assemble a crisis response team. Identify key leaders in your organization. They should be decision makers who understand your mission, the competitive landscape, and know who your stakeholders are. Compile a contact list and maintain it electronically and offline so you can get in touch regardless of internet access or if team members are traveling.
  3. Map out your response. Craft messaging on what you would say in each situation. Be truthful. Don’t elaborate beyond what is necessary to address the situation. Your crisis response team, public relations agency, and legal counsel should align on verbiage to limit liability.
  4. Put your crisis response plan into action. Everyone on your crisis response team should have a clearly defined role, from crafting messaging and communicating with stakeholders to responding to news media and monitoring social media. As you face a crisis, it is critical to monitor what is being said about your brand so you can respond—and course correct messaging if needed.
  5. Restoring your brand. After a crisis, it is paramount to quickly engage stakeholders and implement community relations tactics, creating positive news about your brand.
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