One of my favorite things to do when working with either a new or potential client is to challenge them to think of the last 3 crisis events that struck their business operations. Most people can easily name one or two but that third one for most people tends to be harder. My next immediate question is “What have you done to prevent these crises from happening and even if they do happen what have you done to minimize their business impact?” The looks that I tend to get back tend to be either that of embarrassment, concern or completely blank. Hopefully, you’re starting to see where I’m going with this post.
The crises of your past are those that are most likely to hit your business again. It is basically an inevitability if you have not adequately changed the business practices and how you will respond.
A great short case study is that of Kenneth Cole and in particular the man who has his name as that of the brand. The fashion designer put this highly controversial tweet live in February of 2011:
The tweet was signed by Kenneth Cole himself using the “-KC” tag. The new media press had a hey day writing about how insensitive the tweet was or the fact that the founder was doing this himself to a brand he had helped build for years. More coverage was about whether or not CEOs should even have the time to tweet. While the response from Cole was incredibly fast with an apology it wasn’t enough to stop hundreds of websites from covering it. While they did let the tweet stand for a while, the tweet no longer appears in the time line.
What is even more interesting is that two years later, Cole did it again in reference to the rising tensions in Syria:
“Boots on the ground” or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear
— Kenneth Cole (@KennethCole) September 5, 2013
This is the stuff of nightmares for most brand managers. It felt like it was happening all over again. This is why I really push companies to think about their past experiences because the crises that they will face will likely be derivative of those the business has faced in the past. Knowing how you would handle those same crises today could be the difference between what happened the first time for Kenneth Cole, the brand, versus the second time.
All was not as it seemed thought at Kenneth Cole this second time though. The team made a very conscious move not to apologize and to reframe the conversation from being outrage at the brand to outrage about the war in Syria. Cole appeared in a Instagram video post stating that his intent was to raise awareness about the issue and that the dialogue would only benefit those who were affected. He goes on to name a number of large issues that he had spoken out about previously with no reference as to where the press and public could see that this is a consistent behavior. Given that this is textbook reframing, something that I will leave the technical details about for another post, there is no question that this was a calculated move by Cole and his team in my mind. As a result they were ready for the press coverage and were able to capitalize against the controversy.
Shock jocks got radio ratings for a reason and it seems like Kenneth Cole has decided to be a lightning rod in the social media realm once every year or so to gain additional exposure for his brand. It’s a dangerous game to play as I’ve already seen one CEO, GoDaddy’s Bob Parsons, become a PR casualty of this type of action when he went too far.