How will you handle crisis when it comes knocking?

Crisis management is one of the key management tasks that Public Relations professionals ought to have ready ammunition to handle should it arise.

In the recent weeks, Starbucks Philadelphia’s coffee shop had accusations levelled against them on biracial profiling. Two black men entered the coffee shop and requested to use the restrooms, only to be told that policy demands that only paying customers are allowed access. So they opted to wait for a friend supposedly a white, outside the shop but they were accused of trespassing and one of the employees went ahead and called the police.

This exchange could not help but reach the bystanders and within few hours the video of the incidence stirred an uproar and went viral on social media. There were all manner of comments from the irate public spewing disgust under the hashtag #BoycottStarbucks.

How the crisis was handled

I must give Starbucks a 7 out of 10 in the manner in which they handled this. The C.E.O Kevin Johnson wrote a letter addressing Partners and Customers taking responsibility for the reprehensible act. The tone of the letter was calming and praiseworthy. Read more here.

He followed this up with a video accepting blame and promising to redress the uncouth behaviour of employees at the coffee shop.

Here are some few tips to note when handling crisis, note that this is not exhaustive please feel free to add in the comments section

  • Have clarity of mind when dealing with a crisis situation. Preferably do not embark on seeking answers immediately. Take a breather and do whatever calms you down, of its Yoga be on it.
  • With a clear mind analyse the situation without casting aspersions on anyone. Seek answers from all parties.
  • Revisit the scenarios with your trusted advisory team at the same time monitoring any disparaging remarks from the media and the public.
  • Together with your team come up with a list of questions stakeholders and the public are likely to ask and have well thought through responses.
  • Derive a speech from the Q and A for purposes of consistency. In the speech ensure you start by acknowledging that you are aware of the situation and that you are very apologetic. Mention that it is not in line with your brand culture and that continuous improvement is in the DNA of your organisation.

Being apologetic calms nerves and sometimes serves as a U-turn in the tone of the comments. Refusing to take blame especially when the damage is in the public domain, only fans the flames of negativity.

The CEO should then also be open for media engagements to clear the air. Have you handled a crisis before? Please share with us additional tips.


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