Claire's crisis communication response: designed for success?

February 29, 2012 by Jonathan Hemus

Claire’s, the accessories and jewellery retailer, has found itself cast in the classic role of corporate Goliath, supposedly trampling over a much smaller rival following allegations that it copied the product of an independent designer.

It’s an impression unlikely to win friends and one which the company would wish to shake off.  Its crisis communication approach has been to keep its head down, presumably in the hope that the storm will pass.

This is not always the wrong strategy: sometimes ignoring online, or indeed any criticism, can be the best approach to avoid turning a minor skirmish into a major crisis.  The key though is not to make these decisions on the fly, but to invest time beforehand so that the right strategy can be quickly adopted in the event of an issue.

That means conducting regular reputational risk assessments to identify what could go wrong and then scenario planning against the most likely or most damaging risks.  This allows businesses to identify triggers for communication and calibrate their response appropriately.

In Claire’s case, the trigger could have been when online comment reached a pre-agreed level or when certain influential stakeholders joined the debate.  Realistic social media simulations can help to further rehearse decision-making and ensure the communication team is fully geared up to respond to an online crisis.

This issue also flags up the need for thorough online media monitoring. We don’t know what mechanisms Claire’s had in place to monitor social media conversations.  What we do know is that being aware of what is being said about you as soon as it is said, is the first and essential step in being able to respond quickly to criticism.

Claire’s extremely guarded response to the issue seems unlikely to be in the best interests of its reputation.  By absenting itself from the online discussions, it allows others to make assertions, shape the discussion and influence how Claire’s is seen.

The current policy of non-communication and alleged removal of Tweets and Facebook posts only serves to reinforce negative images of Claire’s as an aloof and controlling corporation.

Communicating more pro-actively – whether to stand behind its design and explain its approach to working with small designers, or to apologise and announce actions it will take to address the situation – would help to position the organisation more empathetically and in control of its own destiny.

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