Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Place Marketers Take Note: Lessons from Recent Community Crises

At the IEDC Annual Conference today, someone asked a site selection consultant panel whether the acts of violence occurring in cities in response to police shootings would have an impact on companies considering expansion or relocation. The consensus was that because they tend to have short term impacts, the effects would be largely minimal. 

Still, a community crisis certainly has the potential to damage the place brand and identity if not handled correctly.  As recent events in El Cajon, Tulsa and Charlotte have shown, the media attention given to a community can go national and international in its scope of coverage. Place marketers must understand that when a crisis arrives, having a strategy in place is essential in limiting damage to the place reputation.

Here are three steps for addressing a crisis situation in a community that can help create positive PR and content after a negative situation has gained momentum:

1.     Be honest and authentic. It is critical that the community be honest and upfront about the issue at hand and to release as much information as possible.  Tulsa avoided civic disturbance by issuing a video of the sequence of events surrounding a recent shooting in their community and charged the officer in question promptly.  Charlotte, on the other hand, delayed such actions, allowing civic disturbances to germinate and grow in intensity.

2.     Address the issue thoughtfully. - If mistakes were made, admit it, apologize and do everything possible to correct it.  Develop a dialogue with the offended parties and invite their collaboration in establishing new protocols or programs to ensure the issue never happens again. Communication is key to managing the crisis and producing positive results through improved practices and community involvement.   

3.     Communicate with key audiences. As one site selector on the panel responded, “make it personal”.  You need to tell people what is going on, how you are responding and how your community plans to mitigate the problem. You need to assure companies or consultants that you may be working with that the instance is isolated and your community has a plan to prevent it from happening again in the future.

Most people will understand that incidents of this type are mostly outside of the control of your community.  Getting out in front of the issue and demonstrating openness and concern for the interest of your existing and potential businesses will help to establish trust and repair any potential damage before it has time to impact their decision making process.

Warren Buffet once said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently. Likewise, years of success and building a brand identity for your community can be severely damaged by a community crisis.  EDOs would be wise to prepare in the calm before the storm to ensure they are not caught off guard should such an incident occur in their community.