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Why Auto-Marketing is Another Threat to Effective Crisis Management

By Nora Jacobs, Hennes Communications

Those who know me know that I’m a travel junkie.  Time and budget prevent me from taking all the trips I’d like to take, so I do a fair amount of armchair travel. That includes skimming the daily email feed I get from Conde Nast Traveler – a publication I’ve loyally followed since I subscribed to its inaugural issue.

Usually those feeds provide quick snippets of places to go, lots of top-ten lists and guidance for taking maximum advantage of precious time off.  Rarely – if ever – have I seen an item that would offend the recipient or raise questions of appropriateness.

That was until the September 23 edition, the subject line of which was “The World’s Coolest Underwater Hotels.”  “Oh-oh” I thought as I recalled the recent media coverage of the tragedy involving a young man who apparently drowned after trying to propose to his fiancé while submerged outside his underwater hotel room.  Sure enough, that property was among those on the “cool” list.

What should have been a completely innocuous communication instead came off as unfortunate – and for some, probably a bit tasteless.  And, for those in the business of orchestrating modern marketing efforts – everything from auto-posting on social media accounts to scheduling buys in the Sunday newspaper – the hazards of getting content out quickly and consistently in a world where tragedy or crisis can materialize in minutes across a global stage.

When we create crisis communications plans for clients, we remind them that their crisis is occurring in context of the other communications they’re sending out to their stakeholders. Even the best-crafted words of apology can come across as hollow when the recipient is directed to the guilty party’s homepage that still features photos of smiling, satisfied customers apparently oblivious to the crime or misbehavior the site’s host is confessing to.

Granted, not all marketing can be retrieved, cancelled or suspended in time when a crisis occurs, but many activities can be halted relatively quickly – if the team in charge remembers to do it in the midst of the firestorm that usually engulfs organizations when a crisis hits.  That is why, when we develop crisis plans for clients, we always make sure one of the items on the communication team’s checklist reminds them to check, fix and/or suspend potentially inappropriate marketing activity.  We also make sure plans include contact information for all of the organization’s marketing partners and 24/7/365 contact information for the gatekeepers on staff who have the authority to pull advertising, replace landing pages with dark sites, halt auto posts and related work.

More than likely, the daily email including the coolest underwater hotels was scheduled by the Conde Nast marketing team a long time ago, maybe shipped to an outside email marketing firm and then forgotten.  With the amount of content an organization like Traveler needs to turn out to fill a daily feed of six or more items, the staff could be forgiven for forgetting about this one.  But it’s a good reminder to make sure you have the processes and procedures in place to prevent an oversight from doing additional damage to your reputation when a crisis event occurs.  No sense adding a self-inflicted wound to the challenges the typical crisis offers up.

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