Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Rules of crisis management: don't let lightning strike twice

The great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw famously once said of success, that it “does not consist in never making mistakes, but in never making the same mistake a second time”. In much the same way this rule can be applied to crisis management. To suffer a crisis once is unfortunate; to suffer a crisis a second time is careless.

Last month the Spanish clothing firm Zara caused outrage when it put on sale a piece of clothing which to some resembled the shirts worn by concentration camp prisoners during the Second World War. The shirt had been designed to be ‘wild west’ themed, but unfortunately the large gold star over the chest looked very much like the Star of David.
To Zara’s credit the company acted quickly to take down the offending item from sale. It also posted apologies to anyone who had been offended by the item on its social media feed with a statement recognising the insensitive nature of the shirt.

Unfortunately for Zara, this was not the first time that the clothing brand had been in trouble for using Second World War iconography in its designs. Back in 2007 the company suffered similar negative publicity when a customer noticed a bag they had purchased from the store included four green swastikas. Again, the company immediately withdrew the item from sale, but not before several tabloid newspapers in Britain had run pictures of the company juxtaposed with Adolph Hitler.
There is no doubt that Zara has made an honest mistake in both instances, unfortunately activist groups and NGOs are less forgiving, with several attacking the company on social media for “ignorance” and a “lack of education”.

In both cases the company reacted swiftly to withdraw the offending products from sale. However, in making the same mistake twice the company has left itself open to accusations of carelessness in the way in which it handles its internal quality control processes.

The key thing about pistols (as anyone who has seen a western will know) is to take the gun out of the holster before firing it, otherwise you risk shooting yourself in the foot, and in this case, twice.

Tom Curtin is the Chief Executive of Curtin and Co, a BCI Partner specialising in crisis communications and reputation management. You can view more blogs my Curtin and Co by visiting their website or by joining their Linked In group.

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