Amanda Evans – Encourage open communication by being transparent

Continuing the deeper dive into the previously posted top-10 tips on managing a crisis here’s a few additional thoughts on points 4 and 5: effectiveness and transparency are intimately connected…

Expensive and damaging decisions are made by companies who fail to communicate effectively. Some try to hide information in a desperate attempt to control the narrative. Names, addresses, card numbers and other personal data were stolen in a grand-scale American cyber attack in 2017 affecting more than 143 million Americans. Were customers notified immediately to stop any further damage? No! Unfortunately the case took a very different turn. What made the Equifax data breach even more catastrophic was the decision by the company to actually conceal the breach for more than six weeks. This lack of transparency prevented their customers taking the urgent, time-sensitive steps needed to protect themselves from identity theft. The credit score agency then agreed to pay up to $700m (£561m) as part of a settlement with a US regulator. Five years on and Equifax appears to have transformed nearly every aspect of its business and is now seen as a business with a strong culture of security and risk management. However, this was an expensive lesson to learn and one where communication could have avoided the fallout. To examine this point further, here are two key areas from an earlier post on the top ten tips on surviving a crisis.


Trust is the foundation of transparency and you need both to deal effectively with any crisis. Making sure that crucial information is communicated properly to everyone involved is also a crucial step in any management plan.That’s not to say that the company, brand or individual should necessarily disclose absolutely everything to everyone. Careful consideration still needs to be taken and decisions made as to what information should be released, to whom and how it is done. What is clear though, as with any crisis, you remain transparent. Keep stakeholders informed on a regular basis and when needed and be as honest as you can be about what happened and what steps are being taken to address the crisis. One of the most notable epic PR fails last year happened when P&O Ferries sacked 800 staff – mainly with a  pre-recorded three-minute video message – and they were replaced with foreign agency staff. The company acted illegally – there was no warning and no prior discussions with staff. Not only were the employees treated badly but the damage done to the brand was huge. It was as if the company had literally ripped up the crisis comms rule book and gone rogue – with disastrous results and understandably outraged both politicians and unions.

When a crisis unfolds, it happens quickly and transparency is a key tool to aid your strategy. It fosters trust, respect and helps create a long-term reputation for integrity. The truth will inevitably come out at some stage and any attempts at a cover-up will only work against you.  Sometimes, saying sorry (without admitting legal liability) can avoid further backlash down the road.

Effective Communication

Establish clear and concise lines of communication early on with all stakeholders, including employees, customers, and the media. The main thing to remember is that communication is key. Misguided motives and an effort to keep up appearances to avoid negative outcomes will not win any favours with anyone. Aldi’s PR department has to be congratulated on the way it dealt with the war of the chocolate cakes. Retail giant M&S filed a lawsuit against Aldi to try and force them to remove Cuthbert the Caterpillar off the shelves. They claimed it was far too similar to their Colin the Caterpillar cake. Aldi’s PR machine mobilised immediately and used humour to fight back with a series of hilarious social media posts. They faced the issue head on and took control of the narrative early on by communicating with all involved. Their strategy paid off as both parties soon reached an amicable settlement.

Crisis management is definitely not a ‘one-size fits all’ set of rules. Each situation is unique and has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. But as was seen with the Equifax fiasco, not acting swiftly and being open with customers can sometimes have disastrous consequences.