By Jenny Gregorcyk
Not everyone in the food industry works in communications. However, it's important and useful that everybody in your company has a clear understanding of all roles during a crisis — because crisis situations are not easy. Stress levels are high, and things are moving quickly, so the more clarity that we can bring in advance of a crisis, the better.
First, it’s important to recognize the media cycle has changed a lot in the last few years, and the way we, as communicators, work has changed quite a bit, too. The old phrase "if it bleeds, it leads" is truer than ever. These days news happens quickly, and news spreads even faster through social media in real time.
News reporters and journalists don’t always have the luxury of taking the time to really understand an issue. Not to mention, they are often in a race with so-called "citizen journalists," basically anyone with a cell phone and a social media account who can make news of their own today.
With the rise of social media, speed is the thing, sometimes in favor of accuracy, which has been challenging for us in the food industry. But it's important to know the media landscape to effectively plan against it during an incident or crisis.
Make a Crisis Game Plan
It’s always better to start with a plan on paper, then bring that to life. At Apron, the communications team works with clients to first identify the universe of potential scenarios that could impact their business from a crisis standpoint. Then the team categorizes those scenarios by level of threat (1, 2, and 3) to the organization and to brand reputation.
From there, messaging is drafted that could apply to each scenario. These probably won’t be the final words used, but starting with a plan mapped out on paper is always better than winging it.
Messaging During Crisis Mode
Messaging is one of the most important parts of crisis planning. A lot of time should be spent working on messaging — preferably before a crisis. There are three principles to good messaging: Making sure messaging is consumer-friendly, responsive, and efficient.
1. Make messaging consumer-friendly. In the food industry, many regulatory requirements exist, especially with food safety, but we don't always have to sound like robots. Amy's Kitchen has done a great job maintaining their brand voice while building consumer trust during an issue. The language they use is very empathetic and conversational. Their web copy during a recent food safety issue demonstrates this: "We love cooking for you and appreciate the trust you place in our company. Rest assured that we have been in contact with the supplier and approaching the matter with the urgency you would expect."
It's language like this that is on brand with what their consumers are used to hearing from them, and it reinforces that they care about and are responsive to food safety challenges.
2. Messaging isn’t one-way: make it responsive. The response “no comment” doesn't cut it anymore, but you can still maintain control over your brand narrative. Apron has developed a model called the Predictive Interviewing Model where we looked at a few thousand interviews to determine if there was a way to predict questions the media asked during interviews.
As it turns out, there is a pattern of questioning which Apron then used to craft messaging. Making sure you stay ahead of the game with messaging that really responds keeps you in control — while putting the public at ease.
3. Make messaging efficient. We live in an age of very short attention spans. Fact: The average attention span today of a goldfish is 12 seconds . . . but the average attention span of a human is only 8 seconds. Goldfish have us beat by 4 seconds! Our messaging must match up and be sharp, so that we're always delivering strong, yet efficient soundbites, especially during a crisis. Many times, we only get one soundbite, so it must be on point and strong. The only way to do that is with a pre-planned strategy.
Regularly Review and Refine
As with any strategy, you’ll want to revisit, review and refine messaging on a regular basis. Many times, a written crisis plan never gets put into action, so it’s easy to gather dust on the shelf.
However, revisiting your crisis response plan regularly to dust it off and polish it ensures the messaging still resonates. In addition, it gives your team the opportunity to discuss new crisis scenarios that may have popped up since the last review. With how quickly news changes, it’s likely there will be plenty of new challenges to tackle.
Strong messaging is only one component of a strong crisis management plan.