For most CPG brands, it’s not a matter of IF there will be a PR crisis, it’s a matter of when, particularly if you’re in an emerging industry where the regulations are ever-changing, the research is emerging, and the deals are getting bigger. This is a perfect storm for a public relations crisis.
Most of the time CPG companies come to us because they want to share their story, appear in the press, create noteworthy and press-worthy activations and add value to their brand, all perfectly delightful reasons to hire a PR firm. It’s the fun side of PR work.
Why Plan for a PR Crisis When One Hasn’t Happened?
According to Plos|One research, true rumors are confirmed within around 2 hours, but it takes over 14 hours for the average false rumor to be debunked.
But the fact is, some of the most important work a PR firm can do for you is crisis planning. We recently had an entrepreneur refuse crisis planning because they “didn’t want to even think about it.” That was a major red flag for us because it’s an outright refusal to protect the brand and create a plan in which we can perform our best services in the case of a crisis; we decided the potential client wasn’t a good fit team Avaans PR and opted not to pursue the relationship. PR crisis planning is not sexy. It’s not fun. But it is important to your brand’s value and most importantly, it will help you sleep at night.
The time to manage a crisis is BEFORE it happens, you can’t expect your team to be prepared in a moment of panic. At the bare minimum, cannabis brands should put together a PR crisis plan. Exact strategies for your plan and the triggers to implement may vary, but in the world of rapid-fire news, cancel culture, and social media, having a plan is the most important step.
Step 1: IDENTIFY YOUR PR CRISIS TEAM
Depending on your brand, your cannabis PR crisis team may at the very least include:
- Chief Executive Officer
- Chief Marketing or Communications Officer
- Brand Spokesperson
- Public Relations Agency and Investor Relations Agency
Depending on the nature of the crisis
- Law Firm
- Human Relations
- Product Formulation
- Social Media Specialist
- Customer Service
If that list seems long, that indicates how complicated a PR crisis can be. Not all these people will be part of every single crisis. But it’s important for every one of these people to understand their role and stick to their role during a crisis. Each of these people represents different points of contact for various stakeholders. They should also have a seat at the table during the second step.
STEP 2: IDENTIFY POTENTIAL CANNABIS PR CRISIS COMMUNICATION SCENARIOS
Some CPG PR crisis scenarios are unique to CPG, others are not. But your key crisis team members need to be involved with the identification of crisis from the start. An important thing to remember is that a crisis can happen just because someone said it did, not because it ACTUALLY happened. We see this happen on social media frequently. For example, if someone accuses your company of fraud and makes the lawsuit public, whether you committed the alleged acts might be irrelevant; if the information is in the press, you may still need to defend yourself against it. Another unforeseen example of this is the Tide Pod Challenge. When thousands of social media posts started popping up encouraging young people to eat Tide Pods, even though Tide has nothing to do with the challenge, Tide had to respond both in the immediate and long term, and researchers said the entire incident may have helped their brand image because their response was so swift and extensive.
On the other hand, you should also determine what the trigger points are for responding to a crisis. Some crises’ need an immediate response from a company, some are better left communicated to a small audience and in other cases, in this fast-moving media world, it might be best not to execute a response at all. There is no “one size fits all,” for your response. The old adage of “get out in front of it,” still applies, in specific circumstances, but other situations require a more nuanced strategy.
A crisis that include consideration might be:
- Injury to staff or public as a result of your product, processes, or location
- A quality control issue, defect, or product recall
- A natural diaster that effects your business, such as an earthquake, hurricane or flood
- Legal action or public claims about an employee, client or customer
- Emerging research or regulatory investigations that affect your product, your clients or the industry
- Executive Leadership change
STEP 3: IDENTIFY STAKEHOLDERS AND AUDIENCES
Each CPG PR crisis may have multiple stakeholders who should be notified of a situation; in most cases, there will be multiple stakeholders. Your responses to each audience should be consistent but may vary in technicality, point of view, or details.
- Government Regulators
- Industry Media
- National Media
- Local Media
STEP 4: DETERMINE COMMUNICATION FORMATS
Again, strategies will vary depending on the PR crisis, but you should determine in advance HOW you will communicate your message. For example, will you address to the media or will you issue a press release? Will you comment on social media or will you make a video? Is this a matter that needs to be released to investors and if so, what is the timeline? Press conferences are rare in the CPG industry, but there may be a circumstance where this would be an effective tool.
STEP 5: IDENTIFY WHERE IMPORTANT INFORMATION IS HELD
Your key crisis communication team should have access to important contact information for each other, including emergency contacts and follow-up contacts. Your PR firm should have at the ready multiple pieces of information which will be needed in the case of a crisis. Having information on hand can sometimes be the difference between undesirable media coverage and squashing the coverage altogether.
LISTEN UP: THE ONGOING STEP
In the day-to-day of running a CPG brand, it’s easy to miss the signals. Be sure someone from your PR team is keeping an eye on industry trends and evaluating how they might impact your overall reputation and any crisis plans in place. Having your finger on the pulse of these waves can help you navigate changing consumer, political, and investor perceptions more adeptly. From social media listing to media monitoring, when it comes time to decide about response triggers, you’ll have more insight into what kind of response will be well received.
There’s no single solution to CPG PR crisis planning. Your plan will be distinctive to your company culture, values, leadership, and risks. But should a crisis hit, you’ll be grateful for the plan that gives you a path for decision making.