Cocktail Napkins and Crises: Is Your Brand Prepared?

Long before they were used as storyboards for Harry Potter and A Few Good Men, cocktail napkins protected the surface of a table from rogue drops of wine or condensation from a chilled beer.

Just as the layers of a cocktail napkin safeguard the integrity of a bar from an accidental spill, a crisis communications plan can protect and support a brand during calamity.

A crisis is often the ultimate test for a company. Employees raise questions. Leadership is doubted. Customers rethink loyalty. Regulators come knocking. Interest groups smell blood.

These fears aren’t unfounded. Crises threaten both the reputation and the future of even the most established organizations.

When a crisis does occur, the actions a company takes in the first 24 hours can set the tone for public and media perception. Having a comprehensive action plan in place can help quickly address the multiple communications issues related to a response. As events escalate, and leadership senses a loss of control, a well-formed crisis strategy can anchor and inform an organization’s response.

Throughout the process, the company should constantly look back to its core message for guidance. This is critical to ensuring that your organization is not distracted or derailed by unexpected twists, turns, or lines of questioning.

Again, it’s helpful to return to the metaphor of the cocktail napkin when thinking about your core message. Your key message should be simple, it should be credible, and it should easily fit on a 5″ x 5″ square. Focus on this simple refrain throughout planning and implementation. This ensures that all aspects — apologies, statements, media interviews, stakeholder letters, and focus group questions — ring true and that your message gets through to the audiences who matter most.

Few things can keep the C-Suite up at night like thoughts of product malfunctions or unexpected lawsuits.

But as avid cocktail napkin user Winston Churchill put it, “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.”