by GK Strategy 2nd May, 2018
2 min read

creativity in a crisis

Creativity in a Crisis: Companies who turned issues into opportunities

I spend a fair amount of my time thinking about how leaders and businesses deal with issues or crises. It’s my job to do so, and to be ready to jump into action when existing or potential clients call us requesting immediate support.

They know they need our help but they’re not always sure what that help looks like. The best clients enter such arrangements with an open mind. They listen, reflect, and ultimately are willing to take decisive action to remedy the issue they are faced with.

Those that are unable to do so often have wider, cultural issues that make doing so difficult. There is nothing like a crisis to unearth poor culture and leadership.

As consultants that specialise in handling such scenarios, it is easy for us to lead on ‘fear-selling’ for these types of services. Sometimes it is necessary. Too often we see issues become crises because they are handled in a way that aggravates, rather than builds trust with audiences.

For a change, I want to show off some examples of brilliant handling – all of which demonstrate flexible, creative and accountable leadership. Putting personal opinion aside, the three short case studies below should be looked at in isolation for their creativity in turning their respective issues into opportunities.

1. KFC: no chicken

Andy Nairn, Founding Partner of Lucky Generals summed it up well in PR Week, saying “these are the days marketers dread: an epic failure at the heart of your customer experience, which not only costs you money in the short-term but has the potential to damage your brand in the long-term.”

When KFC ran out of chicken earlier this year, they did several things well. From a corporate perspective, KFC held their hands up, said sorry and delivered frequent messages across multiple channels declaring their commitment to put things right. This was good handling, but an obvious move. More was needed. What wasn’t clear was how they would take this scenario and win over their customers again. It was a huge social media story, landing slap bang in the middle of their target audience. Memes galore. There was no amount of online banter that couldn’t be had about KFC.

KFC did well to meet their audience at the right level. With a clear grasp of their brand strength, KFC put out this self-deprecating yet confident advert to win back some of the trust it lost:


2. National Trust: Clandon Park fire and restoration

The National Trust’s job is to protect approximately 500 properties and locations across the country – so a story about a fire breaking out and wrecking 95% of a stately home in Surrey cuts right to the heart of their reputation. Such events are always big stories, delivering on the media’s hunger for strong visuals, drama and apportioning blame.

The National Trust have been incredibly successful in understanding and utilising their own power as an organisation to focus people’s attention on the restoration. They quickly committed to restoration, highlighting that all was lost. They prioritised their membership and followers in communications – speaking directly to their 4.5 million members as soon as possible and setting up their social media channels as newsrooms. They used their own team, which comprised of former journalists and communications professionals, to tell the story in the most direct way possible. This helped build trust, taking supporters on a journey towards restoration. Similarly effective was a plan to open source of ideas from architects for its restoration, but also crowdfunding to help foot the bill beyond that of the insurance pay-out.

3. Uber: licensing issues

On 22nd September last year, TFL informed Uber that it would not be issued with a private hire operator licence after expiry of its existing licence on 30 September. As we all know, Uber are still on the roads, with the licence decision stuck in appeals. Uber’s response to this decision was very effective. It put customers at the heart of its story and leveraged them to make life difficult for TFL. It also used their new CEO to illustrate that it was turning a new leaf. Here’s what they did:

Published a short media statement in response to the decision, immediately acting to reassure drives of their intention to appeal and make a clear statement about the message TfL are sending out about London as a global centre for business.
Launched a petition. Any battle needs an army, and Uber knew too well that its customer base is its biggest weapon. Over 500,000 Londoners signed the petition in six hours – now just short of a million. This sent a very clear message to the Mayor of London and TfL about where public support resided. If a politician is to survive, they require votes. This controlled the media narrative and put pressure on Sadiq Khan to urge TfL and Uber to reopen talks.
Published a full-page letter in the Evening Standard, London’s most-read daily newspaper. The ultimate convergence between advertising and PR and the perfect way for Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, to introduce himself to the debate. He thanked Londoners for their vocal support and reassured them of Uber’s commitment to appeal the decision, but crucially opened the door for dialogue, recognising that it needs to change. Always give your opponents something.


For more information on GK’s Issues, Crisis and Reputation services, contact Ned@gkstrategy.com

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