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Scott Wallace
Brands in a crisis are at the proverbial fork in the road. The wrong turn and you suffer. The right turn and you thrive.
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"Never waste a good crisis"

Always a man for a few good words, Winston Churchill was the creator of this quote. Winston was also a man of a few good crises, most he inherited, some were his own doing. The catastrophic Gallipoli campaign for example. Few remember that the British army suffered greatly at the bottom of the peninsula just as the ANZACs did up on the west coast.

But he got it right when he suggested that a crisis is a good opportunity to make changes. Because crises are born out of something being drastically wrong.

John F Kennedy knew about crises too. They seem to be part of the job for world leaders.

“When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters, one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” –JFK

So whilst we are all currently putting a focus on the danger of COVID-19, as we should be, our suggestion is that as soon as they can, brands need to move on to thinking about what opportunities today’s world of a pandemic and social isolation offer.

Don’t ignore the danger just yet. As if you can.

Because right now, how you handle Coronavirus and what it is doing to your business, and your customers, will define you for a long time to come. Someone insightful called in to talkback radio to suggest, rightly in our view, that airlines need to be very careful in how they handle customer cancellations because of the travel restrictions now in place.

The airlines that do it well, with care and consideration, and empathy and flexibility, will have loyal customers when it comes time to travel again. Those who are inflexible and intolerant will find their customers going elsewhere.

We couldn’t agree more. Brands in a crisis are at the proverbial fork in the road. The wrong turn and you suffer. The right turn and you thrive.

The vastly popular painkiller Tylenol faced a crisis when their packaging was tampered with in 1982. Seven people in the Chicago area died after taking what they thought was extra-strength Tylenol but was in fact Potassium Cyanide. The perpetrator of this vandalism was never found.

Brand owner Johnson & Johnson responded in textbook fashion. They immediately went public about the crisis, they issued a nationwide recall, they repackaged every SKU as quickly as they possibly could and they eventually launched an assured campaign to rebuild the brand’s image. It became a model for crisis management and restored Tylenol to market leadership.

The Unsolved Tylenol Murders, a pill a little hard to swallow.

Any brand can face a crisis.

Any person can face a crisis.

Any country can face a crisis.

Every once in a while, the world faces one. Who saw, just two months ago, a virus that began in one city in China would become a global pandemic with over 170,000 cases across the globe. Every travel brand and every person associated with the travel industry will feel the effects of COVID-19. Not far downstream, everyone will feel the impact. How we handle this crisis will define us for a fair while to come.

But out of every crisis, remember this, we are smart people,
who learn from our mistakes, and respond for the better.

Exactly what every government is in the process of doing. Those leaders and those brands and those people who can see the opportunities amid this firestorm of a crisis will fare better. Consumers want reassurance.  They want some practicality. They will want ideas about how they cope with COVID-19 and all it brings.

Our grandparents were asked to go to war.
We are being asked to go home.

Brands that recognise that being at home can be rewarding and stimulating and constructive will be better off than those that don’t. Bunnings gets headlines for closing down sausage sizzles outside their stores.

Did they think about generating headlines built around the joys of staying at home? We all have chores still left undone at home. Being at home presents the opportunity to get them all done. C’mon Bunnings, help me paint the kids’ bedrooms with a good deal on sandpaper and brushes, etc.

Maybe it’s time to get around to those half-finished jobs

Winston Churchill loved his time out to paint.  His landscapes are surprisingly good. Google the value of his art today.

So let’s finish with one of the greatest Prime Ministers in history and how he handled the biggest crisis of his career. He had been the PM for just a month or so. He had just witnessed Dunkirk where the British Army was saved from annihilation in an absolute miracle of an evacuation. Many in his Cabinet were suggesting they negotiate with Germany for peace. Instead of capitulation, he chose the option he knew his proud country expected of him, and uttered these famous words to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940;

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and on the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender.”

So channel your inner Winston and brace yourselves for the fight of your lives.

But also set some time aside to create a plan that will see your brand use this crisis as the catalyst for greater future prosperity.

Mr Churchill will then be proud of us all.

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