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3 Lessons from Major Brand Crises in 2018

Organizations from all industry sectors face crisis situations. It’s an inevitable reality and one that a number of high profile brands have experienced this year. From Starbucks to Carnival Cruise Lines to Facebook,  communications professionals, risk managers, and C-suite officers can take away valuable lessons from these crisis responses.

Three lessons stand out in particular and are worthy of exploration:

Transparency
A video, which received over 10,000 shares before being taken down, appeared on social media resembling a scene out of the movie “Titanic.” A Carnival cruise ship experienced a water line break with water flooding hallways and state rooms. The passenger behind the video included “say a prayer for us all” in the caption – not a good thing for any company. The Carnival ship crew jumped into action for cleanup and allowed the passenger to continue filming. Rather than citing privacy concerns or minimizing the situation to a minor occurrence, Carnival leveraged social media as a way to stay transparent during the emergency and by releasing full details in an official statement after the emergency. Transparent and open communication are key tools when managing a crisis.

Timing
During a crisis, timing is everything. Having a plan in place will help you react quickly. Handling a crisis immediately is important and it’s vital to acknowledge that sometimes that response means waiting to share specific details until they’ve been confirmed. For example, earlier this year when Southwest flight #1380 out of New York had to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia, Southwest responded in real time to acknowledge the incident and admit they didn’t know the cause of it. Within four hours, they released another statement detailing the cause of the incident and their next plan of action. It is much better to keep customers and the media informed early and often.

Facebook could have benefited from this approach during its Cambridge Analytica scandal. The crisis began to unfold on March 17, 2018 after the New York Times published a story regarding the exploitation of millions of Facebook users’ data. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, didn’t release any form of statement until days later and headlines were not kind to this delay.

Action
You timed your responses properly and communicated transparently in a time of crisis. Now what? Brands must do more than just own a problem and apologize to the public. They must act. Following a wrongful arrest at a Philadelphia location that led to a social media uproar and protests, Starbucks went into action mode. Kevin Johnson, Starbucks’ CEO, met with the victims and issued a personal apology. Then Johnson released a statement that was not just a heartfelt apology, but an action plan to close more than 8,000 Starbucks locations on May 29, 2018 for “racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination.” How Starbucks handled the situation was honest, timely, and actionable.

All brands will face a variety of crisis situations. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Preparing for those crises in advance can help reduce the potential impact to the brand’s reputation. In addition to the lessons outlined here, check out our blog post on crisis communications tips. Additionally, stay tuned for a post in the coming weeks about developing that all important crisis plan!

A Communications Specialist,, Vera is experienced in media relations, social media, and content creation. She leverages her close relationships with the press to elevate the image and brand of her clients.