Managing a crisis can become a make it or break it to any brand. Digital transformation has not made it any easier, adding a new dimension and requiring new strategies to build a solid and credible reputation. The Brandberries has exclusively interviewed Khaled Ismail, Vice President of Communications – Europe, Central Asia, Middle East & Africa at Tetra Pak , on how can brands effectively survive a reputation crisis .

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

Khaled Ismail, VP Communications- Europe, Central Asia, Middle East and Africa, Tetra Pak

KI: What people say about you when ‘you are not in the room’ – is your reputation. It takes time, effort and actions to build a reputation. Think of your reputation as a mattress…the thicker the mattress the softer the fall and more importantly the bounce back. The mattress represents people’s trust in your company/ brand…it means that they are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt in times of crisis or if they are about to make a decision which involves you brand/company. 

A recent reputation study found that 30% of the market value of FTSE 100 companies is based on reputation and 60% of investment decisions are based on the reputation of the business, versus the quality of the product, according to The Institute of Reputation.

By the way, this also applies to people’s reputation…Have you thought about your personal reputation?

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

KI: At Tetra Pak we always say that, building and nurturing our brand is the deposit we make during good times to be used in hard times. Crisis management is all about preparedness – and you can never be too prepared!  Companies that recover quickly from a crisis are those who have strong corporate brand and a track record of good reputation.

Having said that, at Tetra Pak we have strong crisis management policies and procedures in place with a concrete escalation process. This process has clear steps to follow if a potential crisis occurs. Starting by assessing the situation, determining what actions are essential to make the right choices. 

All communications professionals in the organization are expected to ensure that both they and their organizations are properly prepared to respond to a crisis in a way that minimizes potential harm to the company, its customers and other stakeholders. Of course, we always share learnings and best practices. 

Being “over prepared” should be business as usual. 

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, what are the dos and don’ts when handling virally blasted crisis?

KI: If you look at crises in the age of digital, you would agree that the features of crisis have changed in terms of speed, frequency, spread and scale of damage.

People tend to assume that crises break out suddenly but get this: Nearly 78% of crises start from small incidents or issues that are not properly managed on time. So, things you already know of…

I would say that the main “Dos” and “Don’ts” are:

  • Get a sceptic in the room and identify the worst-case scenarios. Plan for the worst! 
  • It is important to communicate the right messages in times of crisis. What you say during a crisis is crucial, but more importantly HOW you say it. 
  • Most likely you won’t have much information on hand, however, you should: express concern for people, environment and property (in that order), say what’s being done to address the problem, explain what will be done to prevent a repeat of the incident and always show empathy. 
  • Never underestimate an issue or an incident, as these can easily turn into a crisis
  • Never hide the truth

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

KI: One wrong word (or action) is all it takes…to offend someone or a country if you are not sensitive to cultural nuances…event if you have good intentions. With reputation, one size DOES NOT fit all. 

What is considered acceptable in one culture could be considered offensive in another and that might cause tension or conflict. 

However, utilizing these four steps of crisis management can minimize the impact:

  1. Mitigation– Having a crisis team in place…don’t think you can scramble to form one in the heat of the moment.
  2. Preparedness– Develop a relevant and timely holding statement to ensure that you have a consistent message.
  3. Response- Communicate with local reference and a trained spokesperson.
  4. Recovery plans – What steps are you planning to do to assure people that this incident/accident will not happen again. At times you may have to sacrifice something, or dare I say, someone to send that message clearly.  

BB: In your opinion, what would be a perfect example of a brand that was faced by a crisis and was able to turn it into a PR win in the Middle East?

KI: The one I recall now, is the Lipton contamination allegation back in 2016, were a woman from Pakistan posted a video with allegations of worms found in Lipton Tea bags. The fact that this was a visual led story and therefore transcended language barriers, meant the story spread rapidly, with the video attracting more than 6.2 million views within 48 hours. 

Lipton mobilized quickly and coordinated a global response, they rapidly responded with a holding statement which was posted across all social media platforms. And within 48 hours had produced their own video quashing the claim and showing that the “worms” were in fact pieces of lemon flavoring which dissolve in hot water.

The video was shared across all owned channels (YouTube, their website all social media channels) and drove consumers to the video, resulting in most of news outlets running with the headline that Lipton’s had “debunked” the worms in tea video.

In summary: 

If there is anything you should take away from this Q&A session to better manage any crisis – three words which start with a ‘C” come to mind:

  1. Show CARE
  2. Show that you are in CONTROL – and that you will fix it
  3. COMMUNICATE your message – because if you don’t: 

-You won’t be able to show the above to Cs. 

-Someone else will – on your behalf, event if you don’t want them to.