Marketers of today are facing greater challenges to build brands in times when consumers tend to base their purchasing decisions primarily on brand reputation. 

We’ve exclusively interviewed Nigel Dickie, Director of Corporate & Government Affairs EMEA of The Kraft Heinz Company, to shed some lights on how brands can navigate crises in the digital age. 

BB: Reputation is considered one of a brand’s most valuable assets. One of the core areas where brands and corporate communications cross paths is reputation management. How can communications professionals help brands build a solid and credible reputation?

ND: Credibility is a highly valued asset, but it takes time to build. There are communication strategies you can adopt today to lay a strong foundation of trust and develop a solid reputation. But credibility is not some instant, one-time activity. You must earn it, over time, through a combination of factors. 

Nigel Dickie – The Kraft Heinz Company

Here are five key things you need to do to build credibility. Each can be amplified through effective communications with key stakeholders through multiple channels.

Demonstrate integrity. To cultivate credibility you must build trust, earn trust and get trust. That means demonstrating integrity. Always deliver what you promise. And if you make a mistake, accept responsibility immediately rather than trying to pass blame. Then, aim to go above and beyond to correct it.

Communicate clearly. When you explain what you are going to do, there should be no mystery about your intentions. Anyone allowed to speak for your company should first receive training from your communications team and clear briefing to ensure that your messages are delivered effectively for each audience and channel.

Remember that listening is also an essential part of communication. Use public relations, social media and industry influencers to learn what customers want and how your company can help solve problems.

Be honest. Don’t proclaim one thing and then do something different. Share your vision and values openly and be transparent about your operations and culture. People notice contradictions between actions and words. Effective communications can help to build a positive image where your words and your actions are aligned. To build and cultivate credibility you need to be authentic.

Promote your accomplishments. Every success and industry award help to establish your company as a thought leader and the trust in your brands. Seek recognition in the media and don’t forget to highlight your achievements on your website and social media platforms.

Let your expertise shine. People want to see that you know your product and industry inside and out. Stay on top of trends and changes in your field and work to become the go-to source for information and new developments. 

Effective communications can help to share this knowledge by finding the right speaking events and profiling opportunities, positioning the business and its leaders as expert sources for journalists and using tools to help customers better understand your business.

BB: Many brands are faced with crisis that can give a hard blow to its reputation. Effectively managing crises when it arises can become a make it or break it to any brand. Can you give us some insights on what are the pillars of an effective crisis management strategy?

ND: A crisis requires fast, efficient and decisive communication to reassure those affected and help protect your businesses reputation. There are lots of things you should do when faced with a crisis, here are a few key ones:

Remain calm and immediately gather your senior colleagues together. This is when it’s essential to have an up to date out-of-hours contact list. Crises often seem to happen late in the day, at the end of the working week, and just before a public holiday. Having a good contact list with identified deputies is essential.  

Establish the facts and prepare holding statements for your website, social media channels, the media, clients and staff. Know who your spokesperson will be and brief your staff about the situation.

Ensure any queries are handled immediately by your spokesperson. It’s vital to respond quickly in a potential crisis and be prepared to correct incorrect information in the media. Misinformation can travel fast and can be half way around the world before the truth has even got its boots on. So it’s important to keep a constant watch on the media and social media platforms, responding appropriately.

Once the crisis is over, understand the learnings from the experience. Draw up a list of every potential crisis you might face in the future and agree a plan of action. Preparation is key so run regular crisis simulation training exercises.

BB: The digital transformation age has given reputation and crisis management a whole new dimension. Reputations can be affected negatively with one single social media post. In a nutshell, and from Kraft Heinz’s strategy manual, what are the dos and don’ts when handling virally blasted crisis?

ND: One key strategy to keep front of mind is to engage but don’t argue. Once you’ve posted an initial response, it’s time to get key staff working on more in-depth messaging. That might mean a press release, an official statement, or a letter or video from your CEO.

But simply issuing statements on social media will not work. You need to engage with people who may be saying very negative things about you online. Keep it short. Avoid getting pulled into a long discussion of what went wrong. Instead, try to move the conversation to a more personal channel, like private messaging. 

You could also offer a phone number, email address, or other means of communicating outside of social media.

Of course, some people will simply keep arguing with you until you stop responding. When it’s clear you’re not making progress, acknowledge the concerns and frustrations, but stop taking the bait. Getting pulled into a fight online will not improve the situation. During a social media crisis, people are watching, so you’ve simply got to take the high road.

A good social listening programme can help you spot an emerging issue on social media well before it turns into a crisis. And this is essential when you are in the midst of an issue so as to keep listening and track shifts in sentiment.

BB: Brands work in different cultural contexts. Do cultural differences affect crisis management?

ND: Yes absolutely. In crisis communications, speed of response is crucial, but so too is relevant cultural context. Effective crisis intervention practiced with cultural competence results in more positive outcomes for all involved in the crisis intervention.

If cultural differences are not recognized and considered, then they may induce conflicts and impede coordination among diverse stakeholders in crisis management. 

In particular, cultural misunderstandings between responders and affected individuals could aggravate the crises situation. Culture also affects communication and coordination among diverse stakeholders, leading to different results in crises management.

Businesses that operate worldwide must be aware that every region expects business and communication to be handled in a different manner. Businesses ignore these differences at their peril and so cultural competence is an essential factor in effective crisis communications.

BB: Can you give some tips and tricks for brands on how can they create a modern crisis preparedness plan?

ND: A company-wide crisis communication plan allows you to respond quickly to any potential issue. Instead of debating how to handle things, or waiting for senior managers to weigh in, you can take action and prevent things from getting out of control.

Acting fast is important. More than a quarter of crises spread internationally within just one hour. But it can take ill-prepared companies many more hours to defend themselves in any kind of meaningful way.

Here are some top tips when considering your plan.

Respond Quickly. With the rise of digital and social media, customers expect a quick response. If you don’t tell your story, someone else will and they may not have your best interests in mind. And in today’s digital age, minor missteps can become major crises within minutes.

Put the Victims First. When a crisis strikes, remember, it’s not about you. Put victims first, whether your company caused the problem or not, and acknowledge the experience they have endured and frustration.

The next step is to apologise and be genuine about it. An insincere apology or your refusal to take responsibility can damage your brand and lead to mistrust by the public.

Be Open. What would you want to know if you were the victim of a crisis? Think through that question as you’re crafting your message to the public.

Scenario Plan. Anticipate what could happen, brainstorm potential scenarios and plan how to react, so if the situation does occur, you’ll be better equipped to handle it. 

Ensure your Message is Consistent Company-Wide. Messaging no longer goes out from one department. Depending on the organisation’s size, the marketing, sales, corporate communication, and investor relations teams could be just a small sample of the departments talking to customers and other key stakeholders. When a crisis occurs, you want to make sure teams company-wide are addressing the issue in a cohesive manner. And remember, your employees are your ambassadors when a crisis hits.

Preparation and practise. Throughout, preparation and practise are essential to mitigate crises and minimise the potential negative impact they can cause.