Apologize, fight back, or lie low. That's the question when a PR crisis occurs. Many say you should be totally transparent all the time, but there is such a thing as over-sharing. But when it is time to be transparent, be authentic, it's cheaper in the long run.
When it comes to business, there's a prevailing attitude that says to do whatever it takes to get the job done. This sort of approach can be important and help create the drive needed for success. Yet all too often, business owners are tempted to sacrifice authenticity to pursue profit and growth. Of course, knowing when to do so is the tricky part.
Not only can this be a bad choice and cause short-term problems, but a lack of apparent authenticity could lead to the downfall of your business. Now, more than ever, it's vital that brands and businesses stay true to their values and be authentic in not only how they operate and communicate with customers and the public but also in the ways they relate to their workforce and employees.
Walk the walk, talk the talk
The way business is done changed drastically over the last century. There was a time when the only thing customers cared about was the product or service. Companies were not only free to make false claims in their advertising, but there were also few laws requiring them to put ingredients on labels or tell you what went into creating a product.
Now, it’s vitally important to customers that the businesses they patronize have positive corporate policies, including green values, ethics, and principled marketing and production practices.
Unfortunately, there are companies who may say that they follow a higher path but, in truth, do not. A major part of this issue is what is called greenwashing, where a business presents an image of being environmentally conscious when they are actually hiding their real practices. A company may even go as far as putting out false advertising, as in the case of Ryanair, who claimed they were environmentally friendly but was found to be one of the worst carbon emission offenders in the European Union.
Many other companies have been called out on their false claims. Kellogg's was famously caught saying that their Rice Krispies Treats boosted the immune system. After a lawsuit, they retracted the claim and paid a $5 million dollar fine.
However, when the truth gets out, it can destroy a company’s reputation and profits. In this day of social media, the story of misdeeds can travel far and wide in a matter of minutes. If you are truthful about how you do things, it will go a long way. Don’t get caught lying.
Own your mistakes when it makes sense to do so
When a PR crisis hits, you have a few options: Apologize, fight back, or lie low. Most of the time, when a crisis happens, an authentic apology is the way to go because, after all, the crisis has already occurred.
Everybody makes a bad decision or falls short of perfection. Even the most well-planned advertising campaign can forget to take something into account and come off as offensive.
When it's time to apologize, own your mistake and make it right as quickly as possible. This authenticity will go far with your customers and the public.
If you have created a track record of authenticity, then you will have built up a positive reputation. This means your history will show that you are doing the right things and your customers will support you and be more likely to stay with the company as you correct your mistakes.
It's also important to have an authentic conversation with offended parties, whether a single customer or a group that has been wronged. This public discussion can not only show that you understand what happened, but it will also go far to educate your workforce and make sure the same mistakes aren't made in the future.
Be transparent when it makes sense to
The advice you hear most often is to be transparent. Transparency is important in many ways. It's vital that you aren't hiding things from the public - most of the time. At least, not in a way that, should the public learn about it, would cause a catastrophe for the company. But when it makes sense, you should be transparent.
This can include relevant manufacturing practices (not trade secrets), internal policies that may affect stakeholders, and even involvement with political organizations – especially since these are often reported online. If your actions align with the image you project publicly, then there shouldn't be an issue with allowing the inner workings to be seen. This isn't saying you need to reveal your secret recipe, but allowing inspectors in to observe how your factories operate, how you treat workers, or to open your books for you to receive an ESG score is a different matter.
It's also important that you are transparent in your workplace practices and have an open line of communication with your employees. This will help keep your workers happy and make sure you can retain them. If you create an environment where employees don't trust the business, they will leave. Plus you won't be able to bring in new quality employees because word will spread about what it's really like to work for you. This will cause more issues and productivity can plummet and your reputation inside and out will begin to suffer, as will your profits.
Be honest in marketing and advertising
Marketing is often about putting the best face on a product. We've all seen the silly commercials that have us laughing or humming a jingle on our way to the store to check out a brand. However, there are times when companies have gone too far and been accused of outright lying when it comes to their marketing.
One common issue in the current marketplace is when companies use celebrity endorsements for financial products. A common practice is to have the endorser discuss these companies and their brands in a way that makes it sound like the influencer believes in the product and invests their own money. However, this often skips over the fact that not only are the celebrities being paid for their endorsement, but it also doesn’t mean they even invest in the product or know anything about it. Recently Kim Kardashian was investigated for this type of situation and a Super Bowl commercial featuring Matt Damon became the target of scorn after the company he endorsed imploded.
In a more comical version of companies stretching the truth, Pepsi was famously embroiled in a scandal in the 1980s when they appeared to offer to give away a Harrier Jet as part of their incentive program. A pair of resourceful young men took the company up on the offer and saved enough points to get the Harrier, but Pepsi claimed they were kidding and the commercial was a joke, even though there were no disclaimers. The case went to court and became a standard for truth in advertising and legal warnings in commercials.
If you don't stretch the truth and simply offer a solid product with good marketing, you won’t fall into this trap.
Competition vs. copycatting
There's a difference between trying to compete and copycatting.
It's fine to have a similar product to someone else but find a way to make it yours. Plus, when you are branding, don't use close-sounding names or images in an attempt to ride the coattails of another company.
This goes for marketing designs as well. Many companies have been accused of lifting logos from other brands, thinking no one would notice. In the 1970s, NBC rolled out a new logo that looked suspiciously like the Nebraska Educational Television Network's logo. After being called out on it, NBC settled, in part giving the educational group half a million dollars in equipment.
There are many flash-in-the-pan companies that try to profit from the success of popular products by knocking them off with a cheaper version in an attempt to make a quick buck. If you are looking for longevity and trust from your customers, this route is bound to end in failure.
There are larger companies who do this, and while they have seen financial success, they definitely have encountered the wrath of the public. Amazon has been consistently shown to create its own versions of popular products offered on its own website and undercut the sellers, even manipulating search results so its products overshadow small businesses.
Often this puts smaller companies out of business while Amazon sees more profits. While the massive company is in no danger from the practice, the only real reason it can get away with it is because of its size and deep pockets. Someone trying this on a smaller scale will most likely not only be called out in public but could face legal infringement issues that could be the end of their business.
Treat your workforce with respect
Authenticity is also important in the office. If you treat your workforce with respect and follow through on not only what you promise but also offer real programs and policies that benefit them, your employees will be more likely to support you.
Listen to your employees and their needs. Many companies fall into the trap of offering simple perks in lieu of real support. Instead of offering discount movie tickets, look into workers' needs and consider health care additions or child care. By listening and showing true compassion and attentiveness to your workforce, they will reward you with loyalty. Be clear on employee policies regarding everything from health care and leave, to benefits, pensions, and even workplace rules.
Make sure that you actually follow through on the policies you place into action and that management is held accountable. A company that has rules about discrimination but turns a blind eye to the actions of employees will quickly find that workers will not stand for it.
It's also important to be transparent in your policies, not only toward your employees but how you do business. And make sure this isn't just a cover story. If workers believe in the mission of a company, they are more likely to be supportive and give you all they've got. Plus, as you grow, this approach will lead to the attraction of more high-quality workers.
Authenticity leads to genuine partnerships
There's a lesson from personal life that actually lends itself to the business world. Do you remember ever being told that when you went on a date to be yourself? Because you want the person to like you for who you are? Business is the same.
When you have partnerships with vendors or potential business partners, by being authentic and real, you are going to attract people that agree with you and your approach. You won't have to worry as much about partnerships with people who don't align with your values, which can put you in a bad light for associating with them.
While there will always be people who aren't authentic and won't show their true colors, being the most authentic, you can weed out many of these false people. This will lead to a better road ahead because you won't find yourself connected to the wrong people, and there is less chance your business will be dragged down by bad actors and agents.
This is also important for B2B companies that offer services to other businesses. There are times when authenticity is vital, and choices need to be made about whom you work with. However, there is a fine line between what is an authentic choice and personal feelings of management coming into play. This can be a slippery slope and could be interpreted as discrimination, conflicts of interest, or worse, so make sure decisions are well thought out and discussed before any choices are made.
- Make sure that the message you put out to the public is in line with your actions, both externally and behind closed doors.
- When you make a mistake, own up to it and make it right.
- Listen to the public and don't just ignore their concerns.
- Be transparent in your operations and policies.
- Create marketing and advertising campaigns that are honest and make truthful claims.
- Be unique and create your own style and presentation without stealing the ideas, branding, and concepts of other businesses.
- Listen to your workforce and their needs. Present them with real policies that help them feel respected and allow them to feel secure.
- Follow throw on internal policies and hold offending parties accountable.
- Be genuine in your relationships with vendors and other companies to ensure true, honest partnerships that lift your company up.