Four tips on how to survive a communication crisis
Reading the newspaper can make or break my day: With a positive headline about adidas Group, my job as Chief Corporate Communication Officer is fairly easy, but when negative media reports threaten to take over, it takes some experience to stay calm. Here are four insights I have gained over the years.
adidas Forecasts Bouncier Sales After Good Quarter (The Wall Street Journal US)
adidas now expects speedier sales for 2015 (Financial Times Online)
At adidas everything goes in the right direction (Kurier, Austria)
With these positive headlines appearing after our Q3 2015 results, it is hard to imagine that exactly one year ago in the 2nd half of 2014 basically all media reports about the adidas Group had a negative media tonality.
Therefore, now is the right time for me to look back and share my learnings about what to do when you find yourself in the midst of a communication crisis.
Short intro: what happened in the 2nd half of 2014? After a ten-year period of growth and record results year-on-year, the adidas Group had to issue a profit warning at the end of July 2014. While there were quite some factors outside of the company’s control such as adverse currency effects, a political conflict in the Ukraine and a sluggish golf market, this profit warning triggered a wave of negative commentary on our Group’s performance.
Learning number 1: Don’t try to stop the rolling rock
If there is a communication crisis don’t try to counter it by pitching positive stories on non-core business topics to media. They will not change the negative media sentiment. Or to be more metaphoric: don’t try to stop the rock while it is rolling down the hill. Instead be patient (yes, that’s hard, it was hard for me, too!) and wait until the rock has hit the bottom. Then you can start rolling it up that hill again.
Learning 2a: Stay true to your communication principles
Stay true to your communication principles. You do have communication principles, don’t you?
Our communication principles here at Corporate Communication include having an open dialogue with media and being approachable.
We held true to these principles even in tough times. It helped and it was appreciated by the media. Here are some statements from reporters:
“The company reacted very professionally and kept its approachable manner. There were fact-based discussions about our coverage, but nonetheless Runau and his teams were never annoyed and didn’t complain.”
“It was positive that the company didn’t hide but rather – at least it felt that way – offered even more opportunities for an open dialogue.”
Learning 2b: A media-savvy CEO helps
It helps to hold true to your communication principles if you work with a CEO who has an understanding about how the media works. It does not help if you have a CEO who rushes into your office every single day complaining about just another negative media report. I am fortunate to have CEO version one. It also helps if you take responsibility for negative articles that are published about your company or brand. You would take responsibility if they were positive, wouldn’t you?
Learning 3: Take it slow with pitching new stories to the media
Once the rock has hit the bottom, you can start rolling it up that hill by slowly pitching new stories to the media. You should have at least two quarters of solid results under your belt before doing so.
Learning 4: Regaining reputation is a marathon
Don’t start celebrating just yet. Regaining reputation is a marathon, not a sprint. That is why Robert Bosch, founder of leading global technology supplier Robert Bosch GmbH, said 140 years ago:
“I would rather lose my money than my reputation.”Robert Bosch
In closing I wish you that your company will always perform brilliantly so that you will never have to return to this blog post again. Please wish adidas and myself the same.