Retail Podcast 312: Melissa Agnes on Managing Retail Crisis in a Digital Age

Melissa Agnes on Managing Retail Crisis in a Digital Age

Bob Phibbs interviewed Melissa Agnes, Crisis Management Strategist. In this episode Bob and Melissa talked about unconscious product judgements and how to minimize retail crisis in a world of social media. 

Melissa Agnes

Tell me something good about retail

Melissa Agnes on Managing Retail Crisis in a Digital Age


3 Steps To Prepare For A PR Crisis with Melissa Agnes


Ever since the advent of social media, public outrage has become the norm. Sometimes we think it is justified. Other times we think it is an overreaction. 

However, when the outrage involves your company, it doesn’t matter.

Your ability to react effectively and be crisis ready is paramount. And saying, "They're overreacting," won't work.

So on this episode of Tell Me Something Good About Retail, we are talking crisis preparedness and crisis communication, with crisis management expert Melissa Agnes. She gives us a simple three-step process on how to handle a negative event.

It is important to note that this is something that you do before a crisis situation. You can't be scrambling to react. You must have a crisis prevention strategy prepared beforehand for the best results. 

1. Define an Issue vs. a Crisis 

Melissa’s first step is to define the difference between an issue and a crisis:

  • Crisis: “a negative event or situation that stops business as usual to some extent because it requires immediate escalation straight to leadership.” It has a long term material impact on one of the five things: the stakeholders, the environment, the business’s operations, its reputation, or its bottom line.
  • Issue: a negative “situation that doesn’t stop business as usual, it doesn’t require escalation to leadership because it doesn’t threaten long term material impact.”

Differentiating between the two helps you determine the level of reaction that you need to fix the problem. After this, you move on to...

2. Determine What You’re Most Vulnerable To

You can't predict every possible negative situation that could happen to you. But you can catch a few of them. 

For a retail organization, one of the biggest risk factors are the people in your store, employees and customers alike. Why? They all have a device in their pocket that can record their surroundings and send it out into the world on social media in the blink of an eye. 

A video of an employee severely disrespecting a customer. A picture of sensitive information gets out. These are the things that can go viral in a second. 

This is just one possibility. You need to determine what you are most vulnerable to, and take as many preventative steps as possible. You won't be able to stop everything, but you can do your best.

3. Understand Your Stakeholders

You have to attack a crisis situation from an understanding angle.

It doesn't matter if it was not your fault. It doesn't matter if you think the reaction is unwarranted. Because the public does not care. And if you come across as uncaring, it can make the situation even worse.

When your brand is hit with a crisis, your first step in successful crisis management is to relate to the relevant stakeholders (your customers, your employees, your managers, etc.) on an emotional level. 

Melissa asks us to ask these questions: "What would [insert stakeholder] expect of us? What would they care about? What matters to them? What [are] the emotional triggers? What questions do they have?" 

A company that executed this type of strategy to perfection was Crock-Pot. The big question in the popular show This Is Us was what did the father, Jack, die from? In the 14th episode of Season 2, it is revealed that he passed away from complications following a house fire started by a slow cooker.

Crock-Pot was flooded with backlash and concern. There was no way Crock-Pot could have predicted this backlash. It wasn't even a Crock-Pot brand on the show!  

But did they go to that defense? Did they say, "That's not even our brand and the public is overreacting because our products are extremely safe."? 

No. In their statement to the Washington Post, they said, "Crock-Pot understands the concerns brought up by last night's episode of This Is Us, and we too are heartbroken by the latest development in Jack's storyline." They related to the customers first. Then they talked about their strict safety measures and how safe their products are.

If they didn’t start with understanding, their customers wouldn’t have listened in the first place. 

This episode of Tell Me Something Good About Retail is packed to the brim with useful information to protect your brand. It is a must-listen, so be sure to do so. You can also find more out about Melissa on her website

Melissa Agnes

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