Going Beyond the Print Ad in Crisis Response

When companies are experiencing a crisis, many would advise that it’s not exactly the prime time to get creative or take risks. Most companies default to what they know and are comfortable with (i.e., what the CEO, executives and legal counsel are comfortable with).

Enter the print ad apology. There are times when a print ad apology is necessary and needs to be a component of a company’s crisis response, but it shouldn’t be the only, or even the primary, way to communicate. A Wall Street Journal or New York Times advertisement can feel like you are checking the right box and using the standard “crisis response playbook,” and while there is no one-size-fits all approach to crisis response, there are innovative techniques that extend beyond conventional wisdom to consider.

  1. Print ads rarely (if ever) convert to online activity. A print ad is usually the first in a string of many communications when facing a large-scale crisis. But an ad is a singular experience; including a link to your website at the end isn’t going to motivate people to type in a URL or establish a regular line of communication to the people a company is trying to reach. The path of least resistance is critical when trying to target key audiences – and clicking a link from a social media post or display ad is a much easier ask and expectation, especially when time is of the essence.
  1. Use data to guide your strategy – then measure. Who is the primary audience? How does that audience consume information? What are the current media consumption behaviors and trends? Maybe you need a post on Medium or a video on social media in place of a traditional print ad. By asking questions like these, you will remove the guesswork and ground your strategy in facts rather than a gut-feeling. Using data ensures the best chance to effectively communicate with people that matter. And once you start communicating, let data guide the way in terms how you evaluate and adjust your response plan. 
  1. Leverage a multi-channel approach. Multiple audiences will never all be reached on one channel, nor should they be. A dynamic crisis response plan must have a channel strategy – just like a proactive PR or marketing campaign – and an understanding of what content will resonate most on which platforms. For example, you might create a 20-second video asset for Instagram and an infographic for Twitter based on audience targeting and previous content measurement on each of those platforms.
  1. Get creative. Literally. In a crisis, emotions run high, for audiences AND the brand facing the dilemma. Creative executions must meet people where they are around the issue – at their feelings. That’s why fewer words, more images, more stories, and impactful visuals in dynamic animated or video content are better choices than static print executions. In this way, brands can interact with the currency of their audiences during a crisis with emotion, punching through all the excess noise common to pressure situations.
  1. Practice and test – and then do it again! We get it – a crisis is not the time to take risks. So practice going through the motions of responding to a stressful situation by simulating one. A crisis preparedness exercise will allow you to examine how you might respond – and ask the “what if” questions in an environment where you have the flexibility to discuss and identify next steps that will ultimately make it easier should you encounter the real thing. 

Neely Dockins is a senior account supervisor, Digital practice, Washington, D.C.
Jeff Caporizzo is a creative director, Digital practice, Washington, D.C.