Just like various crises can affect people, companies also have to deal with them. The focus of this article is to show you some past crisis communication examples and how companies managed to deal with them. 

Research shows that 69% of leaders experienced at least one corporate crisis between 2014 and 2019. This means that companies should pay close attention to having an appropriate crisis management strategy to be prepared for unexpected issues.

What makes for a crisis? 

A crisis can appear practically out of nowhere. We could think of various crises concerning a company’s aspects like finances, personnel, technological resources, nature, or workplace. They can be driven by factors like the public, employees, manufacturers, business partners, customers, and even nature – like it was in the case of the global COVID-19 pandemic

No matter what type of crisis companies have to face, they should always be prepared to deal with it in the most smooth and efficient way. If they do not, they could significantly damage their: 

  • Reputation 
  • Consumer trust
  • Image 
  • Financial liquidity 
  • Business relationships

Therefore, it is important that companies think in advance and prepare a crisis communication strategy that will allow them to avoid tragic outcomes. 

Let’s have a look at how some well-known international companies dealt with crises. Hopefully, after reading this you will get inspired to think of ways to deal with potential crises in your company in the future. Without further ado, let’s see some examples in practice.

Crisis communication examples

KFC and the chicken drama

Our first example concerns one of the largest fast-food restaurant chains, KFC, and their relationships with suppliers. More specifically, a situation when Kentucky Fried Chicken ran out of… chicken. Pretty ironic, right? 

In February 2018, 600 out of 900 of the KFC stores in Ireland and the UK were forced to close their doors to lovers of crispy chicken. The company explained that their new supplier was behind this whole chicken tragedy, yet the way they did so was rather funny and lighthearted. They described it as a teething problem and laughed it off with a hilarious announcement on their social media profiles:

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This was not the end of this crisis, though. KFC took things into their hands quickly and launched an offline marketing campaign in response to customers’ dissatisfaction.

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The ‘FCK, we’re sorry’ advert appeared in the Metro and The Sun newspapers. It also included an extensive apology for having to close some of its UK stores due to problems with its new chicken supplier, DHL. 

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What KFC did right:

  • Apologized to their customers
  • Replied to the situation in a humorous way
  • Managed to regain customers’ trust 
  • Gained a lot of attention around the brand, at the same time increasing their brand recognition even more.

Pepsi and a syringe – That’s What I Like?

We are still in the food and beverage industry. This time, we go back to 1993 and a scandalous revelation reported by one couple from Washington, USA. The couple claimed to have found a syringe in a bottle of Diet Pepsi. Surely no beverage company would want to go through hell like this. 

In response to this accusation, Pepsi quickly came up with an idea to prove their innocence. They launched a video campaign showcasing the whole canning process in its full glory. The main goal of this campaign was to demonstrate that such a mistake was simply not possible.

The whole hoax cost the soft drink company about $35 million dollars in lost sales. Lucky for them, though, the campaign turned out to be very successful and the company managed to stay transparent.

What Pepsi did right:

  • Pepsi quickly debunked the false accusations by providing real and genuine proof 
  • They publicly addressed the situation instead of being discreet about it, kept the wider public informed 
  • They managed to regain consumers’ trust

A glass and a half of… worms?

Our third example is focused on Cadbury – a company that every chocolate fanatic knows. Do you remember their sentence stating that there is a glass and a half of milk in every chocolate bar they produce? Well, add some worms to that and you end up with thousands of disgusted customers!

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In October 2003, right before Diwali, a couple of customers from Mumbai reported having found actual worms in the Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars they had purchased. The complaint was quickly noticed by the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration who then confiscated Cadbury’s stocks from the Pune plant. 

In a desperate attempt to defend their brand, Cadbury issued a statement claiming that the infestation was impossible to occur at the manufacturing stage. They also tried to pin the blame on their retailers, as well as poor storage conditions.

The FDA was not convinced by that statement. They quickly discovered that the issue lied at Cadbury’s storage level, as well as their improper packaging process. This negative revelation significantly affected the company’s reputation, which resulted in a 30% reduction in sales. It is worth mentioning that around this time of year, the company could usually experience up to a 15% rise in sales. 

Things got pretty intense, with a rising number of customers deciding to forget about their chocolate cravings. 

How did Cadbury manage to deworm their reputation? A few months later, they launched a three-step educational program involving their packaging, distribution chain, and even retail channels.

Later on, in January 2004, they invested in imported machinery and changed the packaging of Dairy Milk chocolates. Despite the fact that new metallic poly-flow packaging was about 15% more expensive, Cadbury managed to save their reputation. They also invested in brand endorsement and started a cooperation with Amitabh Bachchan – an Indian film actor, producer, and television host.

What Cadbury did right:

  • Tackled the crisis head-on
  • Invested heavily in marketing to regain customers’ trust
  • Eventually admitted to their mistake and quickly removed the source of the crisis
  • Created toll-free numbers and emails to retailers
  • Held media conferences and implemented more strict retailer monitoring.

American Red Beer?

Although this crisis is far more lighthearted, it could have ended badly considering the seriousness of the American Red Cross’ activity. Not to mention, someone could have lost their job!

Here is what happened:

Yes, it is exactly what you think it is. Someone from the American Red Cross decided to get slizzered, just like in the song. Rumor has it that someone was most likely also popping bottles in the ice – like a blizzard. Sounds funny? It actually was. That someone turned out to be ARC’s social media specialist who simply forgot to log out of the organization’s Twitter account. We can not blame them – it was a Tuesday after all! 

The organization took a humorous approach to this mistake and later on published this follow-up tweet: 

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What is also funny and inspiring is that the Dogfish Head brewery joined this hilarious online discussion and encouraged people to start spreading the #gettingslizzered hashtag and donating to the charitable organization based in the USA.

This example seems to be one of few exceptions to the rule when it comes to the negativity that crises usually bring to various companies. American Red Cross even experienced a significant rise in donations after this whole situation had unfolded.

What ARC did right:

  • Used a humorous approach in response to their own mistake
  • Managed to turn negatives into positives and received more donations than usual

Fly high?

A lot of us still remember when a Virgin Galactic test flight crashed in 2014. One pilot of the SpaceShipTwo space tourism craft died and the other one was severely injured in the crash over the Mojave Desert in California. This tragic accident forced the Virgin Group to hold their space travel plans back.

In response to the crash, the Virgin Group took various steps to show their concern.

First of all, they shared numerous details of the crash with the public. Second of all, the company showed genuine empathy and connection with the pilots’ families. The founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson, participated in a lot of online activity and was regularly updating the public on the progress of the disaster, with a lot of personal remarks and sympathy expressed.

The two most inspiring things about how this company responded to the crisis are that they took full responsibility for the tragic event with not even a little bit of hesitation. Additionally, they did not give up on their ambitious project and kept working on their efforts in the future.

What Virgin Group did right:

  • Immediately admitted to their mistake
  • Showed full empathy 
  • The families were offered a lot of support by the company
  • They did not give up and pursued the dreams of Virgin Galactic further.

Learn from the crisis communication examples of the best

Now you know how big companies solve their crisis, it is important to recognize that each type of crisis will require a different approach. Also, bear in mind that:

The approach you take to respond to a crisis will heavily depend on the nature of your business, as well as the industry in which it operates.

A very important thing to notice here should in fact be the immediacy of these companies’ actions. The longer a company waits to respond to a crisis, the worse it usually gets. A fast response can not only calm down the public’s nerves but can also save the company a lot of loss (e.g. financial, organizational, reputational). 

To summarize, an efficient crisis communication strategy should be based on: 

  • A well-thought-of course of actions
  • Immediacy 
  • Creativity 
  • An appropriate level of seriousness, if necessary.

Remember that a crisis does not necessarily have to be negative. Like KFC and the American Red Cross, your company could come out unscathed and or even benefiting. Of course, everyone prefers when scandals do not happen, but companies have to be prepared if they do.

Hopefully, this article has given you some sense of what types of crisis companies can face and, most importantly, how they can effectively respond to them. 

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