Crisis communications is not a one-size fits all activity — it’s neither art nor science.  In fact, crises are so diverse, as are the organizations that are impacted, that solutions by necessity require creativity and unconventional tactics to counter potential damage. It’s the military science equivalent of trench warfare versus asymmetric combat.

Crises can occur when organizations make decisions without fully testing the reaction of customers or vetting them with stakeholders; they often are triggered by mistakes or miscues that, in the absence of social media might go unnoticed; or trouble can be instigated by enemies and critics whose zeal has no bounds.

Dorothy Crenshaw of Ragan’s PR Daily, recently described a few of the more interesting and effective issues management approaches:

  • Taco Bell
    A year ago, the fast-food chain was the target of a customer lawsuit that served up a potential PR disaster for its brand. A California woman smacked Taco Bell with deceptive marketing claims, saying its tacos have far less beef than advertised. Taco Bell wasted no time in firing back. The chain went on the offense, big time. It filed a countersuit, posted a video statement from the CEO, and dished out a saucy media campaign featuring the headline “Thank You for Suing Us!” The customer’s beef, and her lawsuit, were quietly dropped, ensuring Taco Bell a place in the annals of crisis management. Well done.
  • The Red Cross
    It was only a rogue tweet, so the risk faced by The American Red Cross last year may not rise to the level of reputation crisis. But its handling of a staffer’s Twitter post about a party was a nice example of a measured response. After realizing the employee confused a personal account with a corporate one and shared plans for “gettingslizzerd” on @RedCross, the tweet was quickly deleted. Yet, importantly, it wasn’t ignored. The Red Cross used a light touch, noting, “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.” Best of all, @DogfishBeer joined the fun by encouraging donations, and appropriate replenishment.
  • JC Penney
    Penney’s reputation has endured some bumps in the past year. First, it was outed by The New York Times for “black hat” SEO practices last January. Then, it suffered a visual identity crisis leading up to the announcement of a bold new pricing strategy. Just as it built positive momentum for the “new” JCP, advocacy group One Million Moms threatened a store boycott over its choice of ad spokesperson Ellen DeGeneres. Rather than try to appease critics, the company stood by Ellen and, in a brilliant move, it escaped the Lowe’s trap by letting her do most of the talking. Penney’s was betting that Ellen was far more popular than One Million Moms, and it was right. Ellen’s explanation of her “traditional values” is a PR home run. The boycott ended faster than a flash sale.
  • o.b.
    Talk about facing the music. The J & J tampon brand was threatened with a “girlcott” by angry users after it discontinued its popular Ultra item. The customer backlash threatened to take over its reputation, until o.b. defused the situation with a unique response. Its apology PR campaign included a hilarious video that used personalization technology to woo back customers. “Triple Sorry” was a sublime send-up of an uber-schmaltzy music video, complete with rainbows and rose petals and a vow to bring back the product. It was a pitch perfect response to a potential crisis.