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Published on Tuesday, July 2, 2019

How to protect your brand from a values crisis




Travel brands face potentially dire consequences if they're not properly prepared for a values crisis, warns Adele Breen, interim UK managing director of Hotwire. Here she shares her expert advice on how companies can protect themselves.

Public-facing issues often hit travel businesses from out of the blue. As an industry, we're generally well prepared for potential crisis scenarios - we have to be due to the very nature of travel and our commitment to customers.

Saying that, remember how Ryanair was caught up in a racism furore last year when it was slow to respond to video footage circulating of a ranting passenger? Or the blunder from Thomas Cook after they almost removed a female passenger for being 'inappropriately dressed' for her flight, in the wake of #MeToo. Both these incidents occurred recently, in 2019, and in both cases the airlines in question came across drastically unprepared when the stories played out through the media.

While the travel industry might be well prepared for the crisis we 'expect' to see, evidence suggests we aren't prepared for communications crisis situations linked to personal values, a phenomenon that has grown in recent years.

According to our research as part of our Values Shield report consumers are ready and willing to turn their backs on brands that act in a manner inconsistent with their personal values. In that event, there are steps travel businesses can take to protect themselves from crisis and the damage it could cause:

Check your mission
Always check your company's mission and purpose to gauge if it has a consumer-centric view that is broader than your products and services. Don't just stand for anything, stand for something! And make sure that something is enough to shore up your distinct purpose in this world beyond selling a product or a service, even when the chips are down.

Pressure test your values
Evaluate your values to ensure they are clear, actionable and promote behaviour that will guide you in making the right decisions. Fluffy feel good words may sound nice, but they are not enough to help you navigate the way when there's little or no time for explanation. If you haven't taken stock of your values and benchmarked the understanding of those values in the last three years, you need to.

Value-based communications
Communicate top down and bottom up. Reinforce values by communicating how key business decisions factor into the values every step of the way. It should be second nature and muscle memory for the company. For example, if you are making a decision to change your recruiting process to avoid unconscious bias, you should share that with your organisation as a conscious decision based on your values such as equality, inclusion or diversity. Or, if you are adding a mandatory clause to your procurement process that means checking a vendor's ethical standards, you should talk about why that is important to you as a brand. Do not simply assume your business decision makers will be on top of this.

Prepare the C-Suite
A well-documented plan approved and ready to go is great in black and white... but we operate in a world of grey. As a leader, it's your responsibility to build tolerance within your company on how far you are willing to take a stand on issues. Values are not just a people and culture tool; they should be brought into the boardroom on a regular basis. When you're in the midst of dealing with a crisis issue, it's too late in the day to be debating how far you're willing to drive a decision based on values.

A values-based issue can rapidly escalate into a full-blown crisis with potentially dire consequences. At worst, this could prove fatal for a travel business. There are huge advantages to approaching these sensitive issues in the right way. Handled the right way, by living and breathing your business values, can actually improve brand reputation. Smart future-proofing and stress-testing of the business' values proposition will boost your chances of surviving, and ideally even thriving, when a challenging communications event hits.

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