How brands respond when stuff blows up—literally

Mark Busse – No Comments

Let’s face it. Shit happens. Things go wrong. Hopefully not too many times over the lifetime of a company. But it’s in the critical moments after a serious failure of a company to meet its promises where brands can be built or destroyed. It’s terribly easy to point fingers, rant and criticize mercilessly when a company let’s you down—especially as many companies tend to turtle and hide behind press statements and try to downplay the incident as quickly as possible. But what about when companies take full responsibility, apologize and take swift action to earn your trust again? That’s a magic brand moment indeed.

Recently Shaw Communications experienced an explosion and fire in their Calgary office tower which brought down the power in the building and service for many in Calgary, including emergency services. Not good, right?

To be clear, we’re not in the PR or crisis management business, but how brands respond in these situations is so crucial to their brand health and I think Shaw did a pretty darned good job with their response to this terrible and atypical situation. This CBC video interview of Shaw’s President Peter Bissonnette, and his SVP Operations Jay Mehr is in my opinion a very well executed response in a time of crisis.

Here are a few things I noticed in the video worth noting:

  • The interview appears to take place in a makeshift operations centre, with what looks like an ongoing meeting in the background with people wearing yellow vests. This is clearly a serious moment of action and they are hard at work dealing with the crisis at hand.
  • Both executives appear slightly disheveled, with only the President wearing a tie, and even it is loose with an open collar. This isn’t a moment they care to look overly polished and in fact appear a little sleep deprived, as though they’ve been hard at it for days.
  • They refuse to engage in finger pointing or blame, instead choosing to apologize in a sincere manner not just once, not even twice, but three separate times during the interview. They clearly understand how seriously they have failed their customers, tenants and partners and are taking full responsibility for the situation.
  • The two executives explain what happened in simple language, and give specifics about what is being done to fix it quickly, what lessons were learned, and what steps they’ve taken to ensure it never happens again.
  • Throughout the interview both men subtly yet repeatedly emphasize that this was a rare event causing a “single building power failure” and point out the aspects of their disaster plan that went well, and how quickly service was restored for the majority of clients.
  • Both gentlemen remained calm, avoided defensiveness, and expressed themselves in a humble and contrite fashion. There was no hint of executive elitism or passing of any bucks.

I’m sure Shaw executives receive plenty of media coaching and employ crisis PR specialists, but I appreciate how these leaders handled this situation swiftly and genuinely. And the choice to acknowledge their flaws and apologize so openly for their role without pointing fingers or making any excuses was a terrific expression of Shaw’s brand culture and values. CBC’s Terry O’Reilly would call it “Flawsome”.

So to Mr. Bissonnette and his colleagues at Shaw I offer my congratulations on a genuine, timely and effective response from a brand perspective. I bet many of those still stinging from the inconvenience of all this will in the end find Shaw’s credibility enhanced and perhaps be even more loyal to the brand as a result of the way this situation was handled.

Can you think of other examples of when a brand has effectively responded to a crisis situation and maybe even benefited by their actions? Please leave comments below.