So was it a case of hope over reality after all? Secret Cinema will go ahead finally with founder Fabian Riggall admitting that it was his determination to go ahead that was responsible for the catastrophic last minute cancellation. It’s a story that says a lot about leadership, decision making and business growth. Then also common sense and communications in a crisis. Let’s face it, things do go wrong. But Secret Cinema got it wrong, underestimating the passions of their audience and what they needed to hear. The question here is how do you deal with the responsibility that growth and ambition demands?
First off, this world demands a concession to conversational instinct. The English language with all its fantastic elasticity can transform the humble apology into escapology. Beware of media confessions and how they are received and decoded by the public. Mistakes are attributed to ‘uncharacteristic hiccups’, or ‘rogue employees’, or even blamed on ‘the regulations’, for which the public (sorry that’s you and me again) are ultimately responsible.
Secret Cinema, who had used social channels so brilliantly at the beginning to support and promote their vanguard movement, failed horribly faced with their crisis when they hid behind newspaper links to explain their issue instead of coming out and dealing with the crisis honestly, carefully and with empathy for the hundreds who had traveled, prepared and invested in the event. Disgruntled followers on Facebook, which Secret Cinema used to deliver messages described this as a test case PR disaster. I am beginning to wonder whether there is a growing trend for brands to try and bury a crisis on social media, using it, but not in any way effectively in their hope to paper the cracks.
So in the case of Secret Cinema they got the headlines, but not the ones they would have hoped for.
Anyway, it is certainly true that brave brands grow in a crisis – the brands that show strength will ultimately reap the rewards down the line. Leadership is a vital ingredient here.
Strong leaders not only have to make decisions, but, even more importantly, they also have to make sense of a complex, confusing, fast-changing, multi channel world and a crowd with all the power to disrupt. Out of the jumble of incomplete facts and shreds of information, leaders MUST assemble a clear and compelling message, defining a new order and a strong direction. They should generate confidence and build momentum, leveraging the issue to greater effect. It’s no use developing a psychopathic defense system that obscures the consequences. Yet there is proof that the folk managing the content across multiple channels are finding it increasingly complex and are often not equipped with the knowledge to find the influencers that will change their course. The danger then is the potential to turn a crisis into a catastrophe with very little effort.
Here’s the avoid list.
1. Don’t be overly optimistic.
You can’t just identify a solution! You need a balanced view of the reality along with some optimism to keep everyone truthfully informed.
2. Don’t deny the problem exists!
Denial simply serves to escalate the issue.
3. Don’t abandon common sense!
It would appear that common sense is actually not so common. Trusting instincts alone to survive a potential business crisis may result in the wrong problem being solved really well! Applying some common sense will confirm if your actions are helping or hurting. Get good and trustworthy outside advice.
4. Learn to be emotional.
During a crisis, it’s important for the audience to see that leadership is connected and in touch with the situation. This is the time when followers need to connect emotionally. Without that connection your audience quickly disconnects and the disruption begins.
5. Never blame others. Ever.
Blaming others always makes a business look weak, and it sends a clear message that the business is not in control of the situation.
6. Be prepared for any eventuality.
This demands rigorous planning and expert language communications.
7. Prepare your internal network.
Obvious. But many don’t.
8. Do not underestimate the passion and power of the crowd.
Stories quickly get out of control if not prepared for and controlled from the outset.
Secret Cinema had a passionate following that had grown out of a cult status. To grow now they will need to be brave and put this behind them, dealing with their public with respect and more than an apology. Hopefully their maverick leader will realise that sometimes you must go backwards to emerge further forwards…