My first Public Relations professor was circa 1940.
He got his career start alongside inspirational characters for Mad Men. His “tried and true” PR theories were all “Cold War, wait ‘em out, big bad Corporate America” themed.
While such stonewall strategy may have worked on June Cleaver inspired retro housewives and their emotionally detached bread winning hubbies, silent treatment simply will not fly with today’s generation of socially savvy consumers.
“A response admits guilt,” my PR prof preached, “and remember folks – bad press is better than no press.”
I remember shaking my head as I scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad, “that just doesn’t sound right.” But then again, my prof was the one with his DBA, and I was simply mixing mimosas to cover trailer park rent. Maybe he knew a thing or two…?
Times Have Changed
Today’s consumers demand corporate accountability and transparency (especially given that majority purchasing power shifts to Millennials in 2017).
They believe in brand relationships and are more than willing to put their money where their principals lie. Quality and price are still variables in consumer purchasing decisions, but perceptions – how well an organization reflects positive values – are a determining factor in millennial consumer minds.
Public Relations is the first responder when it comes to consumer perceptions. PR professionals are tasked with framing and messaging all things – the good, bad, and the ugly – company + customer. Sometimes this job is fun – like creating social good campaigns to impact the community. Other times, this job gets a little hairy – feeling like something more along the lines of tense mediation between two warring tribes. Even if you’re a PR pro to the stars, crisis mode will fall in your lap eventually. In the words of my sharecropping grandma, “You can’t ever keep everybody happy all of the time.”
PR crisises happen. Organizations are going to mess up. The public’s not going to be happy.
FUBAR Response Plan:
So what type of response are today’s consumers calling for following a corporate FUBAR?
An authentic (not full of corporate jargon), timely (at minimal - toss ‘em a bone when you start trending on Twitter), accountable (you guys are right - we screwed up big time), plan of action (here’s how we’re gonna fix this) response.
Guess what PR scandal was trending on Twitter this morning?
Apparently, someone at Joe’s Crab Shack thought it was kosher to include a picture of an 1895 hanging on their table display.
According to USA TODAY, the “display appeared to show a large group of white people watching a public execution of at least one black person. On the bottom of the picture, it reads: ‘Hanging at Groesbeck, Texas, on April 12th, 1895.’ At the top, the caption reads, ‘All I said was that I didn't like the gumbo.’”
Joe’s Crab Shack’s response:
“We sincerely apologize to our guests who were disturbed by the image and we look forward to continuing to serve the Roseville community,” stated David Catalano, COO Ignite Restaurant Group, Joe's Crab Shack parent company.
How’d this insincere, untimely, corporate-package response go over?
My thoughts exactly, Shanticka.
More #JoesCrabShackSucks love:
Gotta Build Rapport
Ever heard of “mirroring”? Psychology Today defines mirroring as “the skill of assuming someone else’s style of behavior to create rapport.” It’s a great way to instantly connect with another establish immediate trust.
I spent a few holiday seasons working Customer Service back in my “putting myself through school days”. Few things in life have been as trying as manning the Customer Service Desk after Christmas Day – not a day when people are exactly putting their best foot forward…
Dealing with one disgruntled customer after the other, I quickly recognized if I’d match their anger or frustration at the situation with my body language, tone of voice, and energy level, they’d immediately relax, trust me, and were overall much more pleasant to work with.
Public Relations – while much more intricate than the Customer Service desk – is still an arena where company-customer relations are king. As a PR professional, one is tasked with cultivating positive brand perception among the people – one’s customers. For an organizational response post-PR crisis (such as Joe’s Crab Shack’s abhorrent table display) to be effective in maintaining positive relations with the public, it should mirror the public’s outcry in order to build rapport with today’s consumers.
Effective Crisis Response is KEY
21st Century consumers do not trust big organizations.
They don’t trust bailed out corporations they perceive as responsible for the Great Recession. They don’t trust mortgage companies they watched foreclose on their parents’ home. They don’t trust companies that once harbored white collar criminals who made billions on Ponzi schemes and other financial crimes (WorldCom, Stanford Financial, Madoff, anyone?).
Today’s companies have lost consumer trust.
Today’s companies are automatically the “bad guy”.
Today’s companies cannot afford any more chinks in their already tarnished armor.
Today companies – like Joe’s Crab Shack – cannot afford to miss out on an opportunity to build rapport through effective PR crisis response.
It ain’t 1960 - silence isn’t sexy.
Address consumers’ concerns head-on, and use a would-be PR crisis as an opportunity to build rapport with the public and set your company apart as one that truly cares.
Becker Digital is a full-service Marketing and Public Relations Agency dedicated to empowering mission-driven organizations to reach their goals. We apply our expertise in community development, social media strategy, and public relations to connect organizational clients with today’s always-scrolling online users.