Yes, that Paw Patrol. The crazy-popular kids’ program chronicling the zany stories of a quiet seaside town with a neurotic and useless mayor who depends on a pre-teen and his band of humanly talented puppies to save the town citizens from every disaster. Kids everywhere, including my own, eat this show up like a dog on a bone (insert groan here) and, trust me on this, it’s actually pretty entertaining. Just ask anyone who’s suffered through even a single segment of The Power Rangers.
During an episode where the town was overrun by popcorn (very serious), it dawned on me – the Paw Patrol really know how to handle crisis communications (I mean, besides excellent life lessons for kids)! Things go wrong, it’s part of life. It’s the way those wrongs, mistakes, accidents and oversights are handled, and subsequently resolved, that separate the stars from the dumpster fires.
So, from the mouths of cartoon dogs and babes to you, here are 4 real-life tips for crisis communications.
1. Own It
The town’s mayor might be useless, but she isn’t shy about accepting ownership for the mess of the day (and then calling on children to help). Taking full ownership of a problem will both change the way it is perceived, and how long it lives on in the memories of your audience, and the abyss of the internet. The faster you own it, and move to the next steps, the less negative impact it will have in the long run. Take responsibility and then…
Sometimes it’s the problem-perpetrator, sometimes it’s the canine rescuers themselves after a failed plan, but someone always apologizes on the show. Think of the last crisis you heard about in the news. How differently did you perceive a company if they blamed others and/or refused to apologize, sometimes until outed, versus one that that straight up took responsibility and said ‘we’re sorry’? Just as in real life, an empathetic and sincere apology goes a long way. Calculate the entire scope of the problem to understand the full impact and all that are affected. Then make sure the apology is issued on the multiple platforms your audience frequents to ensure it is seen and repercussions are understood – especially concerning any action that needs to be taken.
3. Lay out the plan to do better – and then actually do it
Once you’ve taken responsibility and apologized, it’s time to make things right. On the show, each pup has an area of expertise, and they are called on when their special skills are the best fit for the situation. During a crisis, bring in your experts. Seek and listen to the advice of those best suited to remedy the situation and make a plan. You’re asking the question – how do we stop the flow and change course? Be fully transparent – this is key. Pull the post, inform the public of the danger, get your CEO out with answers or the plan to get them, whatever action it takes. To be clear, this isn’t a window into how not to get caught next time – it’s an opportunity to do and be better.
Truthfully, a crisis plan should be put into place before a, well, crisis. The very act of figuring out what to do during a red-alert situation can help you avoid one altogether. At the very least you’ll be prepared. The exercise forces you to think of worst case scenarios and to put preventative systems in place. It reinforces your company’s code and reminds everyone to always keep it top of mind. The result is a plan that anticipates or avoids errors and a blueprint for how to mobilize quickly when something does go awry. If you don’t have the luxury of drafting a plan in advance, after a crisis take the opportunity to analyze what happened and how it was handled. Pick up and take stock of valuable feedback from all relevant parties, and most importantly, use all of that intel to design a clearly defined, well thought-out plan.
Who knew an animated boy and his talking dogs could teach us all a thing or two about managing high-pressure situations, huh? What are your experiences with crisis communications?