Making Crisis Look like a Clever Plan All Along

What do you do when the weather turns your marketing plans and execution on its ear?

You have no choice. You have to adapt quickly and stick with your decisions. But after all the work is done, it’s gratifying to receive a message from the person at the top who said, “your actions give the impression that this was a clever plan all along.”

This situation is a real-world experience for us that happened earlier this month, and the subject of our Reinventing Direct blog at Target Marketing Magazine called Positioning Crisis to make it look like a Clever Plan.

Like most organizations, we didn’t plan for a crisis. The first weekend of December was to be Christmas Shows for The Vocal Majority Chorus here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Over 4,000 people who had purchased tickets were impacted by an ice storm over the region. Three out of four performances had to be rescheduled.

With that fresh experience behind us, and lessons we learned with how to successfully keep ticket cancellations and refunds to a minimum, we offer these 10 recommendations that someday you may need to use in a crisis:

See how we handled messaging (until the end of December) at The Vocal Majority Chorus website.

  1. The Customer Comes First. There will be anguish about cancelling a delivery, event, and more. But the customer’s personal safety, expectations, and experience must come first. They will remember how you handled a crisis for years. 

  2. Present a Solution, Not a Problem. Foster a culture in your organization so that no one drops a problem at your footsteps and doesn’t offer a solution. Encourage problem solving and solution offering. If you’re not all in the same physical location, get on the phone. Email and texts are a lousy way to encourage dynamic creativity and solve problems. 

  3. Communicate Internally First. In crisis mode, it’s easy to think the customer must be notified first. Our experience: internal decisions must be communicated to everyone inside the organization first because there will be those on your staff who will be posting on Facebook or Twitter. They’re intent is good: they want to help. But if they have any detail wrong, it can confuse, and damage your reputation. 

  4. Be Transparent and Truthful. Your customers, patrons and donors deserve the unvarnished truth. In our case, the reason for cancellation was obvious. But customers deserve to know that you’re working on solutions. Tell them what you’re doing through social media and via email. 

  5. Empower One Individual to Push the Messaging Buttons. This isn’t to say that others shouldn’t help implement the plan. The point is that one person calls the messaging shots and gives direction so your organization (including the top) speaks with one voice. 

  6. Update Your Website Minute to Minute. Watch your analytics reports and you’ll see quite quickly that your customers will look at your website first. Have it update-to-date by the minute. Use in-your-face graphics, in a prime location on the home page, with your announcement. 

  7. Mobilize Communications Immediately. In the old days, we would have done our best to make thousands of phone calls. Thankfully today, email and social media can get out the word quickly. Email segmentation enabled pinpointing exactly which patrons were directly impacted, and they were sent an email (without distracting thousands who are on the email list but not affected).  

  8. Constantly Monitor Social Media. Social media announcements of this magnitude spread in minutes. If you have staff or volunteers, tell them exactly what you should say. Often your customer wants to help you and spread your message for you. Give them the information. Then monitor comments so you can answer questions and clarify misinformation. 

  9. Enhance Your Product Once Delivered. Most likely your product is, well, your product. It can’t be changed. But you can include a gift or bonus for the inconvenience. Or make light of the situation through messaging and give your customer an even better experience. 

  10. Stay Calm and Carry On. The best compliment you can receive after the worst is behind you is “Your actions give the impression that this was a clever plan all along.” How do build successful teams? Foster an encouraging, solution-driven culture. And don’t permit your organization to become paralyzed in the decision-making process. 

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Gary Hennerberg

After a lot of years in marketing and sales, this is what I know works:

Stories sell. Think unique. Stimulate emotion. Close deals. And here are a few other gems from my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code.” Know the persona, interpret your offer and let your prospect give themselves permission to buy. That’s how the brain is wired. It’s how people think.

What else? When I’m not breaking down complex topics (or ones marketers over-complicate) into easy-to-grasp stories that sell, I crunch numbers. Manage projects. Write. Teach. Lead.