Even Smart Companies Are Dumb About Crisis Communications

Have you examined your crisis communications plan lately? Is it up to date? Do you even have a crisis plan in place?

Apple, the company that invented the smart phone, was dumb about the way it handled the instant crisis of the awful Maps app on its iPhone 5. You don’t want to find yourself in the in the same predicament if something goes wrong at your company.

Silence at First

Apple fans were worked up into a tizzy in anticipation of the new phone with the usual lines circling Apple stores when the phone went on sale. But much to their dismay, Google Maps was nowhere to be found. Apple had substituted its own Maps app. What a clunker. Whole cities were missing, and you risked being directed to a street that led nowhere. A new pejorative — “Mapplegate” — entered the lexicon.

What was Apple’s immediate response? Nothing.

What Apple Did Wrong

The company let the crisis get out of hand. It’s stock slid. Apple released the update to its mobile operating system on September 19th, with its new Maps app.

For days, customer complaints spread like wildfire over the Internet and by word of mouth. The news media had a field day reporting all the horror stories of cities plopped down in wrong states and missing altogether.

Buried in all the negative news were the positive new features of the phone: a bigger screen, lighter weight, increased speed, and the feel of the phone in your hand. All the focus was on Maps.

What would the late Steve Jobs have thought about introducing a phone with such a glaring flaw, the pundits asked?

What Apple Did Right

Tim Cook

Tim Cook

Finally, on September 28th, ten days later, Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, issued an apology.

He acknowledged the problem and proposed a solution.

To his credit, he said, “We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.”

He offered these options: “While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.”

Crisis Communications Tips

Don’t wait for a crisis like Apple’s to test your plan or think it will never happen here. Take these steps to avoid a crisis when something goes terribly wrong for your company:

Pre-Crisis

  • Be alert for anything that could impact negatively on your business.
  • Develop a plan for your crisis team establishing communication channels and assignment of duties. Make a list of all those who should be notified.
  • Be sure your spokespersons are media trained to handle reporter inquiries.
  • Review the plan periodically. Select a crisis scenario and talk it through.
  • Update the notification list.
  • Recognize a crisis when it comes.

In-Crisis

  • Contact key audiences quickly with accurate information about what has happened. Tell them what steps have been taken, and will be taken, to address the situation and how the incident may affect them.
  • Encourage employees and customers to refer media calls to your media relations spokesperson so that they do not become part of the rumor mill and pass on inaccurate information to the media.
  • Let employees know how and when you will provide updated information. This boosts morale and allays concerns so that employees can concentrate on their own responsibilities.
  • Tell employees what they can do to help.

Post-Crisis

  • Reward/acknowledge heroes, those who went out of their way to resolve the crisis.
  • Investigate preventable causes and include results in best practices.
  • Access perceptions and take steps to restore trust with all key audiences.

Your Personal Crisis

Be prepared for a personal crisis if you lose your new iPhone or it’s stolen.

A few years ago, then New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly reported that overall crime was up by 4 percent in New York after years of decline.

Why? Because the theft of very popular Apple products was up by 40 percent last year, contributing to the increase in the crime rate.

On the day the iPhone went on sale, police officers were assigned to 21 Apple retail locations to help buyers register their phones in the event they are lost or stolen.

That was a great example of pre-crisis planning.

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