Hot on the heels of the launch of rbb’s new crisis and issues management division, Reputation & Risk Advisors (R&RA), a new crisis has broken that exemplifies the need for every organization to have a well thought-out, well-executed, integrated plan that not only protects the brand but also embodies Breakout Brand principals to put the customer first. When done right, the best response not only prevents reputational damage but can even strengthen relationships with key audiences.

First, it’s important to pinpoint what counts as a crisis in today’s environment. As stated in a recent byline in the American Business Journals by rbb’s R&RA lead Laura Guitar, “virtually all media coverage has reputational impact, a unique digital lifespan, and the potential to become global in minutes or hours, not days or weeks.”

I would also add that it’s not only media coverage that can get your brand into trouble these days. Social media users (translation: everyone) have evolved into tribunals, juries and judges and are not afraid to share their findings with the world.  And share quickly it will – like fire in fact, as you’re about to hear.

Take for example this week’s crisis du jour. First, SPOILER ALERT!!!! If you plan to watch this week’s episode of “This is Us” and do not want an early reveal of Jack’s demise do not read on!

Spoiler Tag

Anyone who has watched the revered #1 NBC show has known since Season 1 that Jack Pearson, patriarch and husband to Mandy Moore, meets a tragic and untimely death that is the pivotal moment affecting many of the character behaviors and arcs we see 20 years later in the triplets’ grown up years.

This week we learned the cause of the fire – a Crock-Pot – gifted by a well-meaning neighbor with a warning about a tricky on/off switch. Adding to the drama? The Crock-pot scene is set on Super Bowl eve, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in it, and, you guessed it, the fictional Pearson couple of Rebecca and Jack are massive Steeler fans.

In addition to just being great TV, the brilliant timing and marketing is not lost as the fire story line crosses into a special time slot next Sunday – immediately following the Super Bowl. Too bad for Steelers fans they won’t be watching their team in real life (go Pats!) but that may have only added to the emotional reaction surrounding this story.  Like many snack food brands and accessories, Super Bowl is likely a key sales opportunity for Crock-Pot, so the negative attention was pretty poor timing.

Back to the Crock-Pot. Maybe you guessed, but I certainly did not see coming the backlash directed at the brand as fans now began eyeing their formerly beloved crockpots as potential fire starters and all around villains. The brand had to react quickly, opening its first Twitter account and issuing a lengthy statement.

What I find interesting about this crisis, and an indicator of what all brands should be prepared for is that, this is not real.  That’s right, it’s fake news – fictional. Crock-Pot reports it has never dealt with any similar complaints.

And the infamous Crock-Pot on the show? Well, it probably wasn’t even an actual Crock-Pot product but another type of slow cooker (no branding was shown). Just one of the pitfalls of being the leading and most well-known in your category.

In today’s lightning fast social media environment though, it doesn’t really matter if it’s real, fair or justified. You still must respond. And with compassion, something I think Crock-Pot has done a great job with. It could be easy to call the viewers a bunch of crazies. After all, this is a TV show, people!

But as rbb has shown through its research, emotional connections are everything. And boy, do people have emotional connections to their TV and Netflix shows.  You never know what personal experience is going to make someone feel a certain way about your brand.

But tuning into those emotions, acknowledging them and putting yourself in the shoes of your customers is key when attempting to develop a loyal advocate.

Kudos to Crock-Pot for striking the right balance between speed (again no Twitter account even existed before Wednesday!), empathy (the brand positioned itself as heartbroken viewers as well) and accuracy (citing its own rigorous testing and lack of similar incidents while gently reminding that this was fiction).

Additionally, the brand has tried to inject a bit of levity and remind people of the entertainment factor with a cute hashtag #crockpotisinnocent. Because of this thoughtful approach, the brand now has enrolled several advocates in its corner from staunch Crock-Pot users to “This is Us” creator Dan Fogelman.

While there are still plenty of examples of brands or their employees behaving badly and warranting public outcry, we’re also seeing many instances, like Crock-Pots’ or Tiki Torches’, where the brand is caught in a cross-fire (pun intended) having done nothing wrong.

It’s all the more reason why every single brand, large or small, needs a plan and, ideally, a partner to help guide them through 2018, which we’re calling The Year of the Crisis. Looking for guidance? We’d love to help. Get in touch with our Reputation & Risk Advisors division at laura.guitar@rbbcommunications.com.