How To Respond Effectively To A Brand Crisis: 3 Recent Lessons from Pepsi, United Airlines and Sean Spicer

Recently we've seen a few well-known brands stumble, and try to recover: Pepsi, with its commercial featuring Kendall Jenner; United Airlines, with its flat-footed treatment of a passenger removed from a flight due to overbooking; and the Trump Administration (Sean Spicer), with his fumbling/ignorant references to the Holocaust.

These are some of the most sophisticated people, and organizations in the world. So what can we learn from their mistakes? Briefly, here are 3 timeless lessons for others who may encounter a brand crisis -- meaning, a crisis that stretches beyond one incident to affect one's entire reputation:

  • Be Prepared: It is natural to avoid difficult discussions. Most of us superstitiously fear that if we plan for something bad to happen, then it will happen. I don't know if these brands were prepared in advance for a brand crisis, but to me it looked like they were caught off-guard. Unfortunately you just never know what can happen; the first step in responding effectively is to be ready beforehand.
  • Apologize Quickly: As it happens, I personally liked the Pepsi ad. I did not understand what exactly happened on the United flight, or why the passenger was so triggered. And it was clear that Mr. Spicer meant no harm with his comments. Either way -- right or wrong -- if you offended the public you have to get right with them, and fast. For you need them to trust that you care about what they think, especially when they perceive that you have crossed a line.
  • Avoid Impulsive Reactions: Just as it is natural to avoid planning for disaster, it's also natural to overreact. If you are a brand owner, keep in mind that handling a crisis is not the same thing as doing what your customer seems to want you to do. In your response to the situation, draw a clear line between reacting -- i.e., freaking out -- and responding -- i.e., managing the situation effectively. Stay calm and stay the course, if you're really doing the right thing; explain the logic of your actions. 


By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own. This is a personal account unrelated to and not sponsored by the author's employer or any other entity. The author shares this content for reuse under the Creative Commons 3.0 License. For more information: Public domain photo via Pixabay.