A crisis could affect your finances, reputation, and resources. Whatever happens, crisis communications are needed to deal with it efficiently. Whatever it is, crisis communications are required to deal with it efficiently. We’ll talk about some successful crisis management examples.
Crisis management is managing potential threats and mitigating the damage they could do. A company can deal with crises if it has these rules and knows what to do should such a situation arise. Working to reposition the company, communicating effectively, and making plans to ensure it doesn’t happen again are all part of crisis management.
Crisis management plays a key role here. Identifying and responding to problems as soon as they arise is essential. By doing so, you can control your narrative and messaging more strongly. See below for our PR crisis examples.
We’ve collected twenty examples of brands that have achieved effective crisis management, highlighting various approaches. No one size fits all, but you’ll notice some common themes of what works.
What could be worse than a chicken restaurant running out of chicken? KFC managed to do just that in the UK in a situation called Chickengate. They simultaneously had significant problems with suppliers, logistics companies, and other supply chain issues, causing a lack of chicken arriving at restaurants resulting in their restaurants needing to close. However, the way that KFC dealt with it was to see the funny side. They made light of the situation and were honest. They made clear that they would not sacrifice quality. By conveying their standards, they prioritized their customers and reputation.
KFC then followed up with this:
It is noticeable that they followed up on this announcement with a hilarious campaign to poke fun at themselves. Featured in UK newspapers, the ad apologized for needing to close some stores. It also worked in increasing their brand recognition. You could answer that they came out of this better than before the chicken shortage started.
A Virgin Galactic aircraft crashed during a test flight in the Mojave Desert in California, one pilot was killed and another seriously injured. The company took several steps to manage the crisis. Firstly, they provided the public with details on the crash. They then connected with the families of the two pilots to show their empathy.
Virgin immediately took responsibility for the tragic incident. Company founder Richard Branson also expressed his sympathies. This is one of the best crisis management examples.
Pepsi launched a campaign with a television commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. The "storyline" was Jenner casually leaving a modeling shoot where she joins protesters (whose "banners" display the Pepsi logo) and hands a Pepsi can to a policeman who opens and drinks it, much to the delight of the "protesters." The social justice element Pepsi was looking to benefit from was widely mocked and came across as superficial and insincere. So how did Pepsi handle this embarrassment? After sticking by it with a statement mentioning the importance of harmony, they went back on it, paused the ad entirely, and apologized for missing the mark.
The result? By admitting the error early on, Pepsi showed how much they understood they got it wrong and managed to save themselves from any long-term damage. People soon forgot about the incident, and Pepsi carried on being Pepsi.
In 2022, the online messaging company Slack suffered a service outage causing many users to lose access to the application for nearly five hours. The issue was eventually found to be due to a configuration change.
Slack kept users updated on the issue, even detailing errors they made during the process. Their tone was sincere and apologetic but also humorous. The big takeaway? Transparency and honesty for the win here.
When Aldi produced a cake in the shape of a caterpillar named Cuthbert that strongly resembled a cake owned by M&S named Colin. M&S took action against Aldi, claiming that its Cuthbert the Caterpillar cake infringed the trademarked ‘Colin the Caterpillar cake. This sparked a Twitter conversation between the two supermarkets and cake fans. Using the new hashtag #FreeCuthbert, Aldi launched a series of Tweets that quickly trended on Twitter. Aldi fans joined in, retweeting them and showing their support.
During the Christmas period of 2021, Aldi offered to "kiss and make up" with M&S, saying, "This isn't just any peace offering, this is…" (a clever play on a famous M&S advertising slogan). It was a masterclass in using social to your advantage to engage. In any event, Cuthbert seemed to have the last laugh, remaining on Aldi's shelves after the two stores reached an agreement.
The Tide Pod Challenge was an online challenge that involved eating washing detergent Tide in the form of pods made by Procter & Gamble. The craze sent some teenagers to the hospital. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission had to appear on television to address the dangers of ingesting laundry detergent. Using football player Rob Gronkowski as a spokesperson, they launched a campaign to prevent this dangerous behavior. This is an example of crisis communication done well.
Tide sought to shift the narrative to make the challenge seem uncool by leveraging the celebrity of a well-known and liked sports star.
Johnson & Johnson is an extensive healthcare and pharmaceutical manufacturer. One product, Tylenol, was found to contain cyanide, causing the deaths of seven people. The cause of the tampering was never solved. Johnson & Johnson immediately halted advertising and sent nearly half a million messages to healthcare facilities. A safety warning was also issued to consumers. They could have attributed the incident to one-off sabotage and kept the products on the shelves, but they didn't. Instead, Johnson & Johnson pulled all of the products off the shelves, thus costing them millions to protect the public and avoid further outrage. In addition, they established a hotline for worried customers to address any concerns they may have regarding Tylenol capsules. Johnson & Johnson's response provided the benchmark in crisis management in public safety situations. As such, their products are still everywhere around the world today. Good job.
In 2017 a man named Bradey Reid posted on the Cracker Barrel company website, asking why his wife was fired from the retail job she’d had for 11 years. Soon, the hashtag #JusticeforBradsWife began trending. Over 17,000 people signed a Change.org petition looking for answers. Yelp and Google pages for the brand began displaying photos of Brad's wife. In response to Cracker Barrel's lousy publicity, other fast food chains pounced, including Chick-fil-A, which displayed the sign “Now Hiring Brad's Wife!” Ouch! The restaurant's crisis management strategy was not to treat this as a crisis. The movement and Brad's wife were never mentioned publicly by them or on their social channels.
Cracker Barrel “stared down the barrel” and came out unscathed. There was no evidence that the crisis negatively affected the brand financially. Unusually, as Cracker Barrel shows, silence is sometimes the most effective way to communicate during emergencies. Today, most customers are either unaware or have forgotten about it.
The company provides a great example of crisis management through social media. A Southwest Airlines flight landed nose-first at an airport in New York due to the captain's decision to take control of the airplane at 27 feet above the ground did not allow her adequate time to correct the airplane's deteriorating energy state and prevent the nose landing gear from striking the runway. Southwest responded quickly on social media, where they were open and honest. They controlled the story for an incident that could have rapidly garnered the worst attention. Customers praised the airline for its speedy response. The company clearly had a plan for such an incident and put it into full swing.
Imagine you work at Red Cross in their social media team and accidentally confuse their social media channel with your one. Well, this is precisely what happened to one unfortunate worker.
The tweet from @RedCross was this:
Red Cross responded well to the situation, seeing the funny side and explaining the error.
This tweet from the Red Cross was cleverly turned into an opportunity to engage with the public. They posted on their corporate blog to explain the situation, show humanity, and engage fans. The employee who made a mistake even weighed in with the same tone of humor and humility. It can look shady when you delete a tweet if you have a large audience who notices these things, and anything "deleted" on social media can surface to haunt you later. However, the Red Cross did the right thing by apologizing for the tweet, deleting it, and explaining with humor that it was all an unintended error. A crisis was averted.
In a bizarre incident, a billboard ad for a teapot that a department store made seemed to resemble Hitler vaguely. After one user commented on Reddit, it opened the floodgates. JC Penney somewhat humorously responded, saying it was unintentional.
Their response went down quite well, and they managed to sell plenty of the teapots!
The crisis management success here was due to not ignoring and being sensitive to the power of social media. A silly comment can snowball into a PR crisis if not dealt with immediately and effectively. The tone and style of the response are essential too.
A group of white security guards killed a 40-year-old Black man outside a Carrefour supermarket in Brazil. Brazilians and other concerned citizens around the world were outraged by videos taken by bystanders of the brutal attack posted on social media. The CEO and chairman of Carrefour even intervened to tweet. After the incident, Carrefour announced that they would terminate their contract with the security firm and take immediate legal action against them. Aside from that, they also promised to conduct a review of security, diversity, and tolerance training for employees and contractors and to close the store in respect of the victim.
Leadership visibility was shown in this crisis communication to reinforce the horror of the incident and how it did not reflect company values.
When attempting to celebrate and draw attention to its female chefs, Burger King offered this tweet:
The general public did not take the tweet well. The intention was to make fun of this sexist phrase, but the tone got lost on Twitter. Burger King UK deleted the Tweet and immediately posted an apology and an explanation of their intentions, quickly calming the fallout.
This is an example of a crisis that was not immediate and became an issue one month later. Despite that, it was pretty severe. The incident provoked strong reactions from many as people took to social media to share their thoughts. Gucci was quick to act, though, when this happened. As a precaution, they removed the sweater from store shelves, followed by an apology on their official Twitter account. They described the event as a "powerful learning moment." This was viewed as a gesture of respect and humility in the eyes of their customers, and all was well again in the house of Gucci.
By announcing plans to launch global scholarship platforms around the globe, the company presented itself in an extremely positive light.
When Nike shoes fell apart mid-game, causing an injury for Zion Williamson live on television, the writing could easily have been on the wall for Nike. As one might have expected, Twitter erupted, and the stock price fell by 1.8% the day after. Nike’s competitors also jumped on the bandwagon, as you can see.
In an official statement, Nike wished Williamson all the best. Additionally, company representatives stated they were working to identify the problem to alleviate concerns. They wasted no time in doing so. An investigation team was dispatched by Nike to the stadium the day after the incident. A visit to Nike's factory in China followed. In response, the company developed a unique pair of shoes for Williamson. Thanking them for their kindness, they resolved the problem. Swift movement is vital, as is thoughtfulness. The company demonstrated a commitment to improvement, problem-solving, and personally resolving the situation for Williamson.
Singer SZA tweeted about how one Sephora employee allegedly accused her of attempting to steal from the store and called security to prevent the alleged theft attempt. The shop employee was accused of discrimination, while Sephora took to social media. They thanked SZA for bringing the matter to their attention and apologized directly to her. She was assured that complaints like this would be dealt with immediately. Also, they were already working on it.
Thirty thousand users of Buffer were affected by a hack. Buffer sent out an email to their customers before they were even aware. By getting ahead of the story, showing they were taking it seriously, keeping their customers updated, and upgrading security measures. While Buffer's service was down, its team effectively handled the crisis across social media and email channels. It responded a little over fifteen minutes after the first reports of the hack. They did this on a Saturday afternoon when no one was in the office.
They reassured people and offered extra transparency by providing regular, meaningful updates across channels. They were able to prevent it from happening again. Buffer owned the situation, saying, ‘we’ve taken key security measures: we have added additional encryption.’ Social media can be helpful in times of crisis management.
WholeFoods overcharged their customers for pre-packaged food by mislabeling the weight and charging for packaging. Social media contained negative criticism, and a customer brought a lawsuit against Wholefoods. It admitted its error six days later (a pretty long time). The CEOs eventually posted a video on social media where it admitted to its mistakes, owned up to them, and told customers what they were doing to fix them. However, not all of this went down well. They mentioned “weighing errors” due to their “hands-on approach to bringing you fresh food”. As a result, this headline appeared in Slate: "Whole Foods Apologizes for Systematically Lying about Prices," and the Washington Post produced this: "Whole Foods Admits Overcharging, Blames Employees." Not a good look.
However, they did win praise for confirming what they would do to rectify the issue moving forward. “We are improving our training regarding in-store packaging, weighing, and labeling processes,” reads the statement accompanying the video. “Additionally, we have implemented a companywide third-party auditing process for all of our stores, and we will provide an update in the next 45 days so that customers can follow our progress.” This provided customers (who called them #wholecheck on social media) with confidence. Wholefoods learned the value of addressing issues when they arise (not 6 days later) and that it is crucial to live the brand values you espouse.
Chipotle Mexican Grill temporarily closed more than 40 restaurants in and around Seattle and Portland in response to an E.coli outbreak. To directly apologize to customers affected by the crisis, Ells even appeared on The Today Show and purchased full-page newspaper ads. As the situation was being handled, they kept customers informed.
DKNY was accused of using a photographer's photo in one of their retail stores without permission. The company said it was a mistake, as the store in Bangkok used "an internal mock-up containing some of Mr. Stanton's images, that was intended to show the direction of the spring visual program merely." DKNY responded quickly with an apology and a charitable donation of $25,000 to the YMCA - the charity the photographer requested they support instead of paying him. In the statement from DKNY, posted on the photographer’s Facebook page, the company said: "For our Spring 2013 store window visuals, we decided to celebrate the city in our name by showcasing 'Only in NYC' images. “We greatly respect Brandon Stanton, aka Humans of New York, and approached him to work with us on this visual program.“
We’ve seen a range of successful crisis management examples. As we can see, a significant issue can affect any brand at any time, but it’s not always the crisis that is remembered. But how it is handled. Having a #crisis communication plan is vital.
These PR crisis management examples need to be observed for their immediacy. Companies usually get worse at responding to crises if they wait too long. A fast response can not only calm the public’s nerves but also save the company a lot of financial or reputational loss. This article hopefully has given you a better understanding of what types of crises companies may face and how they can effectively respond. It takes planning to have an effective crisis plan in place. PRLab can devise a strategy to manage your reputation and handle any PR issues before they arise.