Clearly in Business Leader: When all hell breaks loose, stick to the plan

11 April 2022 | 4 min read | Careers
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Antony Jenkins. He became CEO of Barclays in the wake of the Libor scandal that saw his predecessor Bob Diamond forced to resign in disgrace. Jenkins had a heck of a task on his hands.

Barclays was accused of acting irresponsibly, customer trust was almost eradicated, and the words ‘fraudulent’ and ‘greedy’ hung over it like a hangman’s noose waiting to claim its next victim. When I asked how he was able to successfully regain stakeholder confidence and shift perceptions of the bank, he simply replied: ‘When crisis strikes, tell it first and tell it fast.’

He was right. When the reputation of the business is being called into question, it is easy to approach the situation by sitting it out in the hope that the crisis will soon blow over and be forgotten further down the line. It is very easy, yes, but incredibly foolish and risks irreparable damage to the organisation.

‘When crisis strikes, tell it first and tell it fast.’

Some crises, of course, are entirely self-inflicted by the organisations themselves and wholly avoidable. At time of writing, we have seen examples of recklessness and greed (P&O Ferries who sensationally announced the redundancy of 800 workers en masse and replaced them with cheaper labour), paranoia and a twisting of the truth (BrewDog… again, this time over its hiring of private investigators to gather ‘evidence’ on employees believed to be part of a smear campaign against the brewer), and questionable ethics and values (PepsiCo and Coca-Cola).

Equally, there are brands and business who have been brilliant in showing others how a crisis should be managed in a way that positively shapes – even enhances – public perception of their brand. Take McDonald’s as a case in point.

While the likes of Apple, Chanel, and Spotify were quick to cease all trade in Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, McDonald’s was a little slower and momentum rapidly grew to boycott their brand. They didn’t ‘tell it first, but when McDonald’s did announce their cessation of all business activity in Russia, they did so in a way that quickly quelled any criticism.

McDonald’s chief executive, Chris Kempczinski, clearly communicated the rationale for this. He explained that the decision to be taken was not a simple choice of either black or white. Rather, other factors had to be considered.

For instance, he pointed out that McDonald’s employs 62,000 people in Russia and Belarus whose livelihoods and that of their families they are responsible for. Collectively, their 825 sites generate over $2 billion of income a year (9 per cent of the company’s worldwide turnover) – some of which is redistributed into local community initiatives and implications of this loss of funding would be significant.

McDonald’s came out of this very well. They clearly communicated that the decision they took was not a knee-jerk reaction. It considered the impact this would have on their people, the communities they support, and the business itself. As a result, McDonald’s won more supporters than detractors

A crisis doesn’t always spell disaster. The key is in being aware of the issues that might affect it, being prepared for all possible outcomes, and ensuring there is a sound crisis communications plan in place. In doing so, organisations can navigate any storm and steer themselves towards calmer waters without inflicting any long-lasting damage to their reputation or bottom line.

If you’re looking to increase your organisation’s impact, influence, and bottom line in 2022, drop me a quick email and we can get the ball rolling for you. I’m at paul@clearlypr.co.uk, on Twitter @PaulMacKenzie_C, and LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/paulmackenziecummins/ .

The above article is the full length version of my column within the April/May issue of Business Leader magazine. The short version can be found on Page 7 at https://www.businessleader.co.uk/magazine/