Crisis Management

Healthcare Marketing: What We Can Learn from PR Snafus in 2012

Some of the most popular brands had major snafus last year.  They provide valuable lessons for healthcare marketers.

133428188As in any year, some pretty big advertisers made some pretty big mistakes in 2012.  It’s useful to review some of them and learn from their missteps.  Ad Age compiled what it considered to be the biggest mistakes by advertisers in 2012.  It might be useful to look at their list and see what we as healthcare marketers can learn.

1.    Apple Loses Its Way

It was very likely that you would get totally lost if you depended on Apple Maps app, which replaced Google Maps on iPhone 5.  Whole towns were misplaced!  It’s reliability was quickly questioned which led to a major outcry.  Apple did issue an apology and promised to make improvements.  But the app was replaced with Google Maps 3 months later.

Lesson:  If you’re going to do something, do it well.  Bad service or a bad product will tarnish your brand.  Especially in healthcare, when dealing with something as important as one’s health and well being.

 2.    Komen Burns Its Brand

Susan G. Komen Fight for the Cure, one of the most visible and well-liked charities in the country, created a firestorm of protest when it pulled funding from Planned Parenthood.  The initial PR response from the charity was a total disaster as it offered multiple and conflicting explanations before reversing its decision.

Lesson:  When responding to a crisis, carefully consider your response.  Make sure everyone is on the same page and the message is honest and consistent.

3.    Romney and the 47%

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a remark at a fundraiser all but dismissing 46% of the population.  His remarks were taped and released.  It was the beginning of the end for the campaign.

Lesson:  Don’t ever assume remarks made in a public setting won’t be shared with the entire market.  All comments made in any public gathering are fair game for all to hear. Words must always be chosen wisely.

4.    Chick-Fil-A Gay Marriage Brouhaha

Chick-Fil-A’s CEO, Dan Cathy, publically said he believed the Bible and therefore didn’t condone gay marriage; the outcry was fast and furious.  Even a couple of politicians said they would ban the restaurant.  Then came the outcry against the outcry as conservative customers rallied around the chicken chain leading it to record sales.

Lesson:  What is the lesson here?  One is that comments and beliefs stated publically by leaders of your hospital will be applied to the entire organization.  It’s difficult for consumers to separate the two.  The other lesson is that if you have convictions and know your audience well enough to know they share the same convictions you can probably withstand criticism from those who disagree.

 5.    The BK-Blige Chicken Fiasco

It was a bad year for chicken!  Burger King broke an ad starring musician Mary J Blige singing about chicken strips.  Some saw racial implications and others didn’t.  But all agreed the ad was incredibly bad. BK quickly pulled the ad over what it called a music-licensing issue and said it would return.  To date it hasn’t.

Lesson:  Carefully consider all marketing messages.  There are many unintended consequences.  As healthcare marketers, we should consider any proposed messaging and be sensitive to how it will be perceived by all audiences.

6.    Butt-Shaping Shoes Busted

Butt-shaping shoes too good to be true?  What do you think?  The Federal Trade Commission certainly thinks so.  Eight months after extracting a $25 million settlement from Reebok for such claims, Skechers agreed to pay $40 million to settle charges it deceived customers with weight-loss and toning claims related to it Shapeup shoes.

Lesson:  Be truthful.  Don’t exaggerate.  And especially in healthcare.  State your case.  Provide benefits but don’t overpromise.  Never give consumers false hope about their health.

7.    McDStories Gets Hijacked

McDonald’s proved how a hashtag can become a bashtag, as Forbes Kashmir Hill put it.  The fast food chain launched the promoted tweet, #mcdstories, in an effort to solicit some heart-warming stores about consumers’ experiences with McDonalds’s.  Instead, it got all kinds of stories it didn’t want.  Consumer telling stories that were not at all heart-warming or flattering.  McD’s yanked the hashtag after two hours.  Unfortunately for them, it then had a life of it’s own.

Lesson:  Be careful.  There are risks involved with social media.  Know them and weigh them and always be prepared for possible negativity.

8.  Lance Armstrong Fall Flat

Lance finally came clean and gave up his fight against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and admitted to taking performance enhancing drugs.  And quickly,  his reputation and marketing empire crumbled.  Stripped of his titles and banned from cycling, he lost an estimated $30 million in sponsorships.

Lesson:  Always tell the truth!

As healthcare marketers we hate to see marketing blunders made by others (unless maybe by our competitors) but it ‘s wise to take notice and learn.  Lest we fall victim to the same screw-ups and missteps.


Healthcare Marketing: Real Time Responses Can Lead to Bad Times

Rather than reacting in “real time” in social media, responses should be carefully and strategically planned.

There is a lot of talk these days about “real time” media.  With social media, brands have the ability to respond and react almost immediately.  In “real time” as it’s referred to.  And many pundits claim this as an advantage of social media.  But is that really the smartest thing for our healthcare brands?

Leigh Dow, founder and managing director of Dow Media Group writing for Smart Blog on Social Media questioned the wisdom of real time responses.  She gave two examples of real time responses that were not so good:

  • Micky Arison, owner of the Miami Heat, was fined $500,000 after using Twitter as a sounding board about what he thought about the NBA lockout.
  • Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce created a media firestorm when he implied victims of the Aurora, Colorado shooting held some blame by not being armed.

These are examples, and there are many others, why social media should not be used for random stream of consciousness.  This is true personally but it’s also true for our brands.  Brands invest a tremendous amount of time, effort and money in building brand reputation and equity.  But when discipline and planning is not used in social media, a brand can be decimated as quickly as you can press, “Send.” 

“If you are doing social media right, little of your communication is in real time,” states Dow.  “Your communication should be the culmination of careful strategy and planning.  If you are doing it right, you have completed an extensive exercise in developing a social media strategy, channel mapping, implementation plans, an editorial calendar, roles and responsibilities, policies and guidelines, and a scorecard for tracking results.  That doesn’t fell very real time to me.”

Some had lauded social media as a great tool when your brand has a crisis.  And yes it can be very useful but it shouldn’t negate the need for a very careful and measured response.  That means making sure you have all the facts and you understand the situation and then deliberately considering how your brand should respond.

Dow gives JetBlue as an example of a brand that did it well.   When one of its flight attendants had a mental breakdown and, as a result cursed a passenger and quit his job very dramatically, social media networks were a buzz.  Instead of feeling the need to respond in “real time”, JetBlue had a more measured and calculated response.  Shortly after the incident the airline updated Twitter and it’s blog by stating that it was aware of what had happened and was working to verify details and would report only what it knew was accurate.  The company continued frequent updates as they learned the facts and carefully planned a response.  As brand protectors our requirement is not to give an immediate responses but to be accurate and responsible.

She gives examples when it’s appropriate to use social media in real time:

  • Monitoring what people are saying about your brand
  • Racking what people are saying about your competition
  • Helping a customer with a customer service question

We have all written emails, letters, notes or memos as an immediate response to a situation but after letting it sit for a bit, returned to it and decided that was not the way we wanted to communicate.  After having a chance to reflect a bit, we decided the words or tone were not what we wanted.  Social media is the same.  Sometimes in an effort to be in “real time” we can create situations that are not so good for our brand.  Because every post, response, or tweet has legs and can never be retrieved.  Careful thought and preparation should go into every social media response.

Healthcare Marketing: Eight Rules for Crisis Management

Healthcare Marketers Can Learn Valuable Lessons from the Penn State Scandal.

Every organization fears it. A crisis of public confidence and perception.   Hopefully as a healthcare marketer, you won’t be faced with a major one.  But most likely, sometime in your career you will.  Maybe more than once.  And during a crisis is no time to be learning on the fly.  It’s much better to first learn from others and then you will be prepared if and when your crisis comes.

Anne Hancock Toomey and Joe Tye wrote an article for Hospital and Health Networks titled “Cardinal Rules for Crisis Response” and examined how Penn State handled their recent crisis.  Though I’m hesitant to criticize how anyone handles a crisis, because it’s so much easier to do so from a rear view mirror than in the middle of the crisis.  Afterwards you can examine results and reactions, which are not available when the crisis is occurring.   But one can certainly look at what happened and why it happened so the same mistakes aren’t repeated.  Based on that hindsight Toomey and Tye offer eight extremely important rules to follow when a crisis occurs.  Here are those rules with abbreviated comments for each:

  • Develop a crisis communication plan. Any organization can fall victim to a public relations crisis, often without warning. Those who have prepared for the possibility and have developed a communication plan beforehand can emerge with an enhanced reputation for integrity.
  • Know when to apologize. The practice of apologizing for medical errors was pioneered by the Lexington VA Medical Center in Kentucky 20 years ago and since has been demonstrated to prevent PR problems and, actually, to reduce malpractice costs. Sincerely apologizing to and, when appropriate, compensating an aggrieved party can save a world of unwanted trouble, expense and exposure.
  • Stay true to your values. Every organization should have a set of values that guide behavior and decision-making. The commitment to integrity should be a guiding beacon at all times — never more so than in a time of crisis.
  • Tell it first. A wait-and-see approach will almost always keep you in a reactive mode. Reluctance to speak first can destroy trust you’ve worked hard to build with the stakeholders who matter to you.
  • Tell it all. Convincing yourself that you can keep a problem secret is dangerous and naive.
  • Tell it yourself. People trust other people, not a faceless institution. Your doctors, employees and patients want to hear from you. Not from a lawyer. Not from a PR person. Not from a nameless statement. In times of crisis, they want to hear from the leaders responsible for addressing the issue
  • Get others to tell it. Internal stakeholders — physicians, employees and even patients — can be strong advocates for an organization if they are informed, inspired and asked to help.
  • Communication doesn’t stop when the crisis has passed. A reputation can be destroyed in one day, but it takes years to rebuild, if it can be salvaged at all. Communication — internally and externally — should be ongoing following a crisis.

A crisis is never good.  But the future of an organization is often not determined by the crisis but by how it’s managed.  If handled properly, a crisis can even enhance a brand.  But for that to be possible, healthcare marketers must learn from the mistakes and successes of others and be prepared.  To do so would be very wise indeed.

Anne Hancock Toomey is a partner with Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock Inc., a health care public affairs firm with offices in Nashville and Chicago. Joe Tye, M.H.A., M.B.A., is the CEO of Values Coach Inc., a health care consulting and training firm in Solon, Iowa. He is also a member of Speakers Express.