Protecting your Brand against the Unknown

Writing this blog was not on my “to-do” list until news of Hurricane Harvey. Current events spark conversation, so this seemed timely. It is not without sensitivity to those who have lost loved ones or who are dealing with loss of all unimaginable kinds.


The recent events in Houston invoke all types of emotions, by those directly and indirectly affected. For me, the current event was bone chilling because I spent the summer reading 5 Days at Memorial, by Pulitzer Prize author Sheri Fink.

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The book is a real-life account of the 5 days at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. The first half of the book paints the picture of a flooded basement that contained the emergency generator, a helipad that was in disrepair, a lack of electricity, plumbing, food and a lot of patients at various levels of health.

People died. Some on their own, some with the help of physician-directed medication. Healthcare professionals were saddled with a hopeless situation and delivered compassion in the form of dosages of lethal medication as they deemed necessary.

The second half of the book details the litigation that followed those difficult life-ending decisions. Everyone accused was eventually acquitted and the exercise prompted immunity laws that protect workers in an emergency situation today.

The epilogue was maybe the most powerful portion of the book. It reviewed not only disasters in third world countries when medical resources have to be rationed, but also situations like Hurricane Sandy and the Ebola patient at Texas Health in Dallas. It included discussion of ethics and the possible biases of having a limited resource distribution protocol in place. “Fifty patients, six outlets. How do you decide?” — was a quote from the book referring to a real-life situation when all fifty patients needed to be on ventilators.

A thought provoking read and history does, tragically, repeat itself.

What does this have to do with protecting your brand? Nobody can predict a natural disaster, but everyone can make an intentional effort to plan for the worst and practice their crisis plan. The lawyers in 5 Days at Memorial asked hospital executives for their crisis plan — a show of due diligence.

Your communications team needs to be part of the team crafting your crisis plan. Who will talk to the media? Where will press conferences be held? What is the message and talking points? Do you have press release templates and up-to-date media distribution lists?

What are smaller and more likely worst-case scenarios that might affect your business? Maybe it’s a theft, power outage, server failure or more snow than your employees can plow through.

Take some intentional time and brainstorm with your team. Make a list:

  • What could happen?
  • How would we respond to an event?
  • What can we do proactively now to minimize the effects of an event?
  • What is our chain of communication?
  • What/When/How do we inform our customers?

Read about other crisis situations, learn from their successes and failure. Remember Tylenol? Uber? Samsung? Wells Fargo? There are many examples of how the actions of others or actions of your internal staff can damage your brand.

My rule of thumb for a crisis response:

  1. Accept responsibility (not applicable in a natural disaster) — State what happened, clearly and honestly
  2. Apologize — We are very sorry for . . .
  3. Explain how it won’t happen again — new training, education or new processes in place — and set those changes in motion

Brands are an investment, and a good brand reputation can be quickly lost whether it’s the fault of something in your control or not. Nothing brings that home more profoundly than a tragic event. With Harvey on our minds, now is as good a time as any to be prepared.

Sending our prayers for those in Houston.


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