Monthly Archives: September 2016

How to Respond to Negativity Like a Boss!

Andra Miclaus - Account Executive

Andra Miclaus – Account Executive

A bowl of sweets sparked political outrage this week on Twitter when Donald Trump Jr compared ‘poisoned’ Skittles with Syrian refugees.

The US Presidential hopeful’s son came up with a ‘bright’ analogy for immigration control and shared it with the digital world. He tweeted a photo of a bowl of Skittles with the words: “If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syria refugee problem”.

Source: The Guardian

Source: The Guardian

Wrigley, which owns the Skittles brand, was not impressed with the comparison and soon released the perfect response:

“Thanks for reaching out. Here is our response:

“Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing”, said Michelle Green U.S Marketing Communications Manager.

The photographer of the most famous bowl of Skittles on the internet also came out, telling BBC that he was a refugee. He started his response by saying that Donald Trump Jr had committed copywright infringement.

“This was not done with my permission, I don’t support his politics and I would never take his money to use it,” UK resident David Kittos told the BBC.

On Skittles’ part, this is a great example of crisis management. Not only was it quick to respond, which is the golden rule when dealing with negative press, its response was sharp, to the point and with a human touch nonetheless.

The team behind the brand surely thought their reaction through very well, in a way to prevent it from being taken out of context and leaving very little room for reinterpretation.

At Acceleris we enjoy seeing companies that work hard on building a consumer-friendly brand and promoting their products creatively. I’m sure we all remember the ‘Feel the Rainbow’ campaign by Skittles. Sweet companies especially have to work twice as hard these days to deal with crises ranging from new sugar tax laws and health issues, to unwanted attention from the offspring of controversial candidates for the US Presidency.

If you’d like to ask our team of experts about how to promote and protect your brand in times of crises, give us a call on 0845 456 7251 and we’ll be happy to help.

What’s in a Name? How VW Dealers Can Protect Their Reputation Following the Emissions Scandal

Louise Vaughan, Managing Director

Louise Vaughan, Managing Director

On 18 September 2015, Volkswagen’s corporate reputation went up in a puff of smoke. Twelve months on and the global ‘dieselgate’ scandal continues to unravel in what is arguably the biggest reputational crisis to have ever hit motor manufacturing.

The scandal, which erupted a year ago this week initially in the USA, revealed ‘the people’s car’  makers had been using software in 11.5m vehicles worldwide to lower emissions of nitrogen oxide in lab testing. Real world emissions were much, much higher.

Just last week Volkswagen faced new claims from Brussels that it had broken consumer protection laws in 20 European countries by marketing cars at the centre of the scandal as ‘green’. EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova is urging national authorities to rally and punish VW for breaching the EU’s “unfair commercial practices directive” which aims to prevent misleading advertising in many EU nations.

In the UK, the Daily Telegraph labelled Volkswagen as the ‘Lance Armstrong of the Motor Industry’. VW dealers are now faced with fixing the 1.2 million cars set for recall. For some, this could mean gridlocked service departments blocked with warranty work delivering minimal financial benefit. The impact of this on the bottom line is easy to measure – but how do you attach a value to the impact on dealer reputation?

For Volkswagen itself the impact of the tsunami of scandal was immediate. The ‘people’s car’ that had successfully built its brand on the pillars of engineering excellence, quality and reliability lost a third of its value in two days – a staggering €25bn. A year on, whilst Volkswagen continues to dominate the UK market along with Ford and Vauxhall, August figures revealed a continuing decline in market share, sliding by nearly 10 per cent to a low of 7.7 per cent.

So what is the value of corporate reputation? According to research by BDO LLP and the Quoted Companies Alliance, the reputational value of all UK listed companies is worth £1.7 trillion. Based on sales impact, share price and employee morale, it found small and mid-cap businesses attach 28 per cent of their value directly to reputation. This compares with the 2015 UK Reputation Dividend Report, which indicated that 30 per cent of the market value of the FTSE 100 is attributable to reputation.

As the full ramifications of the scandal continue to unravel, even twelve months on the full impact on consumer and investor trust is still to be fully determined. What’s clear is that not only the manufacturer – but the dealership network will be under the microscope for some time yet. And it’s the dealer that presents the human face of the brand and has the closest relationship with the customer.

So, whilst VW continues to deal with the fall-out from the crisis, what lessons can be learned by all dealers in how they can best protect their own businesses from a similar reputational and commercial fate?

  1. Have a Plan

When the proverbial hits the fan, having a crisis plan already in place will help you manage and minimise the impact.  A crisis by its very nature will be unexpected in timing and specific detail. However, there are fundamental principles to handling any crisis that should be followed. Work through scenarios and lines to take but also the communications channels and spokespeople you’ll use – matching these with the severity of the situation. The age of 24/7 media and advent of citizen journalism means stories can appear online within minutes of an incident happening so you need to be seen to be quick and slick with your response. Factor in all your media channels – direct customer communications, dealership, web and social.

  1. Build and Boost Your Reputation

Proactively share good news stories – award wins, customer service, community initiatives, new service lines – across CRM, website, mainstream and social media. This will help mould how people react if and when a crisis does hit. It will also help you develop strong relationships within the media that are critical when you have negative news to share.

  1. Reason, Regret, Remedy

These are the three core principles of dealing with a crisis. Explain the reason for the problem, express regret (and this doesn’t mean assuming legal liability) for the impact on your customers and explain the remedial actions you are taking to rectify matters.


  1. Embrace the ‘F’ Words – First, Fast and Frank

You can’t always prevent a crisis hitting. But you do have some control over how the media covers the story. Being the first to publically announce it, rather than an unhappy customer, journalist or whistle blower, can help you set the tone. Above all you also need to be frank and honest. Attempting to cover up, half tell or dissemble the facts of an incident always, always lead to more severe consequences than admitting the actual problem in the first place. Factor Twitter into your response strategy – the vast majority of journalists use it as a primary source.


  1. Make More than your Marque

Successful dealer groups are seen as an integral part of the community – not just a manufacturer’s shop window. Look at the issues affecting the local area and how you can add value – our campaigns for dealers have spanned national charity initiatives to apprenticeships and training – all have resulted in measurable commercial benefits in terms of brand recognition, commercial opportunities and footfall.


  1. Get Social

According to research by JudgeService, the UK’s leading provider of car dealer reviews, 80 per cent of buyers check out individual dealer reviews online before purchasing a car– meaning social media comment and rankings are vital in converting sales. Fusing together specialist customer service tools like JudgeService with a content marketing and social media strategy will ensure you’re regularly engaging with target buyers online, giving them the brand confidence to make an enquiry.

The emissions scandal will roll on for some time yet but one thing is for sure – it is not just a problem for VW. It undermines trust in the wider industry among a public that has had its faith in other major institutions – Parliament, Banking, the Church, the Media – eroded by a series of scandals. It is incumbent on dealerships to adopt an effective crisis management plan as part of their own risk management strategies.


This blog first appeared via AM here.

Peak Tech: Are We In The Midst Of a Backlash?

Jack Williams - Account Manager, Acceleris

Jack Williams – Account Manager

Last month Amazon announced the Dash, their one button device that lets you order a product at a single push. I guess it’s a pretty good idea really (if you ignore the fact that courier businesses are already failing to cope with the cost of free one day deliveries and supermarkets are operating at a loss for the privilege of bringing cabbage to your door). We are a lazy and forgetful bunch, and ordering supplies the minute we need them is clever work.

Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

But I want to suggest that now, as a society, we’re at peak technology and the public has had enough. And here’s my reasoning:

Earlier this year sales of eBooks fell for the first time since the digital age began[i]. In fact, at the end of 2015 Waterstones said it would stop selling Kindles all together because it was “getting virtually no sales”. We’re seeing this tech backlash in other sectors too: vinyl record sales reached a 28-year high this year[ii]. And it’s not just the hipsters that are buying them. Taylor Swift released her ‘classic concept album, 1989’[iii] on vinyl too.

Source: The Bookseller

Source: The Bookseller

And there’s one more thing. That ultimate piece of tech. The black mirror that we see everywhere and that sees us. The iPhone.

So it obviously hasn’t gone completely. Last week the launch date for the iPhone 7 was announced, which could end up being the most bought phone of all time and see me and this entire blog become a waste of time! BUT, as I write right now, smartphone sales have … slumped!

Perhaps not big news in the traditional ‘man bites dog’ sense of it, but I bring it up because the slump has coincided with a rise in sales of ‘dumb phones’ (essentially the most rudimentary of handsets with the ability to call and text and little more). In 2015 there were 24.2 million dumb phones shipped in the US alone[iv]. That’s a two million increase on the previous year.


Source: Nokia Remember this indestructible handset?

Source: Nokia
Remember this indestructible handset?

So am I just a Luddite rejoicing in the backlash? Yes and no. I do hate seeing people glued to their phones when out in social situations, but I happily admit I am an iPhone user – and a polite one at that. Never on a date – first date at least!

The real reason this interests me is because today so much of our communications is built around technology. We can reach far higher, more niche audiences through social media than we can through traditional newspapers and outlets. We build apps that send push notifications right to people’s wristwatches. Pretty soon we’ll be advertising on private messaging apps like WhatsApp. But as people’s relationships with technology changes, we need to know and respond to this.

Like Taylor Swift putting out the LP, as professional communicators we need to always be listening to our target audience and bending our approach. At Acceleris we have developed an in-depth content marketing strategy that puts the audience – and everything we can know about them – at the heart of our strategies. Once we know who they are, we can deliver them the right content on behalf of our clients, and through the right medium.

In my headline I had a question. And like all question-headlines, mine can be answered thusly: “probably not”. But the trends are true as people decide that an always-on, government tracked, internet-enabled world isn’t one for them. Or they prefer the warm sound of vinyl and needle to the eerily clear mp3. Either way, more tech may not always be the best way to speak to your audience.

[i] The Guardian, Ebook sales falling for the first time, finds new report (Feb 2016)

[ii] Fortune, Vinyl Record Sales Are At A 28-Year High (April 2016)

[iii] Said no one ever

[iv] As flagship smartphone sales fall flat, ‘dumb’ phone sales in America are on the rise (May 2016)

Mayday: Handling social media during a crisis

Alex Whitaker, Senior Account Executive

Alex Whitaker, Senior Account Executive

On 3 August 2016, Emirates Flight 521, a Boeing 777-300, crash landed and caught fire at the airline’s home base and primary hub, Dubai International Airport. Thankfully, all 282 passengers and 18 crew survived the impact with only 14 people requiring hospitalisation for minor injuries (however, an Emirati fireman unfortunately did lose his life). Clearly, the accident presented a crisis for the company.

While an incident involving an aircraft could wreak havoc for an airline’s reputation, Emirates managed to completely preserve theirs. In the immediate 24 hours following the crash, the airline delivered a textbook example of how to respond to a crisis situation.

As with any incident of this ilk played out in the modern arena, the world knew within minutes. Breaking news alerts lit up phones across the world as the incident quickly became a trending topic on Twitter, with many tweets also featuring near-live video of the aircraft ablaze. When anyone with a smartphone (around two billion people[1]) can instantly provide raw footage of an incident to millions of people, companies have to be on perpetual guard – and ready and able to react quickly.

In order to respond appropriately and within an acceptable time frame, organisations need to have a pre-agreed crisis plan in place. Clearly, with Emirates’ first tweet acknowledging the situation being sent only twenty minutes after the incident occurred, this had been done. This first tweet set the tone for the exemplary PR response that followed.

Emirates were quick to make people aware of the incident

Emirates were quick to make people aware of the incident

Over the next 90 minutes, the company pulled off an important balancing act, providing new information quickly and regularly but without taking the risk of tweeting anything unconfirmed. The drip feeding of information in real time as confirmation was received showed the airline was well on top of the situation while also serving to inform the company’s most important stakeholders in the crisis – existing and potential customers. Within two hours of the incident taking place, the company confirmed all passengers and crew were safe.

In the 24 hours following the incident, the airline tweeted 31 times, maintaining a constant reassuring presence to those following its social media channels. The company’s activity in this timeframe handled a series of issues. While the initial incident was over fairly quickly, the airline then had to deal with a long delay to many flights departing from its key hub. Emirates deftly melded these crucial travel updates with messages expressing apologies and reassuring customers it was doing everything it could to resolve a difficult situation.

The airline provided as much information as possible on the crew and passengers

The airline provided as much information as possible on the crew and passengers

During this time, the airline also provided links to full statements (in both English and Arabic), pages with more information on expected delays and to a video of a press conference held by the company’s Chairman. In particular, this video was extremely well received. By putting the most senior figurehead of the company in front of the cameras, the airline showed how seriously they were taking the situation. That the Chairman was clearly well versed in giving statements only served to improve upon the video’s reception.

Emirates quickly called a press conference in both English and Arabic

Emirates quickly called a press conference in both English and Arabic

Many users posted replies to the company’s posts praising their response and highlighting the fact they are not concerned about flying with Emirates in the future – showing the airline’s already strong reputation remains intact.

Emirates’ response embodied the key tenets of crisis management. The company stuck to the mantra of ‘first, fast and frank’ and took control of the situation at an early stage, preventing the spread of any misinformation or unhelpful rumours. It provided timely and useful information on the issue while still showing it genuinely cared. Also, quick responses to customer questions on social media not only directly helped people worried about family members, but showed to the wider public that the company could be relied on.

Handling a crisis as it unfolds is never an easy task. Crises are by nature unpredictable, both in terms of when they first occur and how they may develop as the situation progresses. A pre-agreed crisis plan is a necessity, but companies also need to remain flexible enough to react to whatever may happen during the course of dealing with the situation. At Acceleris, we’re experts in both managing crises and developing robust plans ahead of time. A crisis can hit at any time, in almost any industry, so why not give us a call today to find out how we can help you?