Brand and Reputation Under Attack?

Share Your Thoughts: Facebooktwitterlinkedin

“It ain’t over till it’s over.” – Yogi Berra

Firestorm President and COO Jim Satterfield takes a look back at 2015 through the wisdom of a most beloved, “accidental” philosopher.CanYouIdentifyYourNextCrisisFirestorm2016

In 2015, multiple brands came under attack. The brands include a list of major names: Subway, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Volkswagen to list a just few. All of these companies faced actions by representatives, leadership, employees and suppliers that damaged their corporate brand and value. How these business crisis-risks™ are managed will determine whether a company survives or fails.

Most companies never expect a crisis to happen to them. It is always the other company, never our own. The impacts for these companies range from manageable to catastrophic; the responses of most however, created a second crisis for their brand.

What makes the difference in outcomes? A crisis management plan, an established critical decision process, and a crisis communications plan with message maps are needed before the crisis occurs.

Your board wants to know: Are these in place? How have you tested them? Are you ready? How do you know? Are you sure?

A crisis is not business as usual. It is business as unusual.

In every crisis, companies are reactive; they immediately focus on “What do we do? What do we say?”  A crisis is different. Ad agencies and public relations firms play vital roles for companies to support and to build brands. They are excellent ‘peace time’ partners. A crisis is a war for the very survival of your brand.  Your crisis needs an experienced ‘general’ to help leadership understand the complex issues and consequences of the escalating events.

What are the business impacts? What should you monitor? What are the triggers for action?

More challenging, companies in crisis will hear conflicting recommendations from internal and external parties – ‘get out in front, frame the problem, send a press release, keep your head down, fire somebody, lie, cover up’  – all of these are wrong and may lead to secondary crises.

Who is your CRISISCOACH®? Ask your crisis manager ‘what crises have you managed?’ A crisis is not the place for on-the-job training. Your crisis is your World Series or Super Bowl. You do not let an inexperienced rookie start at such a critical time. You cannot afford to go into the record books FirestormConferenceImage2016as one of the greatest brand losses of all time.

While a crisis may be unusual for a company under attack, Firestorm® sees these crisis patterns repeatedly. To help us understand these brand attacks and appropriate response, we look to the insights from the late, great Yogi Berra. Yogi died on September 22, 2015. He left us with ‘Yogi-isms’ to share his wisdom and humor in the events around us. Many of these can point us in the right direction.


“We made too many wrong mistakes.”
“Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.”– Yogi Berra

Everything you learn initially in a crisis is wrong. When someone in your organization says: “We always do things the right way,” or “We would never do that,” you may come to learn that in a crisis, everything was done in exactly the wrong way at precisely the wrong time with the worst consequences possible.

Chipotle found E. coli and norovirus outbreaks in multiple cities. Chipotle’s early announcement that they had eliminated the problems proved wrong. The stock continues to drop.

Former Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle’s statements – and comments from Subway employees and others – indicated that warning signs were missed or ignored.

Volkswagen engineers knew they had emission problems for years. What can you say?


“Never answer an anonymous letter”
“I really didn’t say everything I said.” – Yogi Berra

Ask the question ‘why communicate’ five (5) times before speaking about a crisis. Pressure mounts in a crisis. You will find that everyone wants you to get out in front of the problem. See rule one.

Before your company speaks about the crisis: Slow. The. Process. Down. Force the decisions of whether to speak – and about what to say – to become clear to your leadership team. Do not speak just to speak.

What will your response do for the company? How will it reduce the exposure or solve the problem?

Asking ‘why’ five times before sending a release or issuing a comment will improve focus and outcomes.


“It’s déjà vu all over again.”
“You can observe a lot by watching.” – Yogi Berra

What are your three key messages? You are in a crisis. Something very bad haFirestormCrisisBrochure2016ppened. Your focus must be on the solution, not the problem. If you are explaining, you are losing.

Whether a brand spokesperson committed a criminal act, or your product contains serious quality/safety issues that have the potential to cause harm, or someone in your company lied about your product, there is an authority who is investigating these allegations. Regulators, police, governments, and courts value the spotlight and want to talk to the media. You can’t and won’t stop them. They are focused on the past – the problem. You will never be able to explain the problem away. Don’t try.

You must talk about the future, not the past. The past is the problem. The future holds the solutions. The conversation tone needs to shift forward.

How will it be different? What are you doing to assure this will not happen again?

The three key messages in a crisis are:

  • We will not be defined by this event
  • We will invent the future
  • We will embrace those affected

“The future ain’t what it used to be.”
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”– Yogi Berra

Yes, the future changes with a crisis. You must recognize the facts and address the consequences of the events that occurred. The crisis bell cannot be un-rung.

What is your highest priority? How can you make sure that happens?

In 2015, Firestorm responded to two national brand clients facing separate allegations of racism. The facts in each crisis were very different. The potential brand impacts were staggering. The immediate goal had to be survival of the brand.

Yes, there was potential to do damage that could not be reversed. Taking direct actions, implementing a vision to define the future and personally reaching out to stakeholders extended the runway and created a road to the future.

One last thought: a cyber breach is a business problem, not an IT problem. Does your company have a cyber breach response plan in place because you know, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” – Yogi Berra

Share Your Thoughts: Facebooktwitterlinkedin