Christine Birkner
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways
  • Marcom strategies should include not only a crisis communications plan, but also a rapid-response strategy to address opportunities.
  • Steps to creating a rapid-response plan include honing your brand voice, getting executives on board and staying on call.
  • The key is to stay flexible, experts say.

When crisis—or opportunity—strikes, it pays to be prepared. Here’s how to create a rapid-response messaging strategy.

Always expect the unexpected—and if you can plan for it, all the better. Marcom strategies should include a crisis communications plan, and you should develop methods and messaging to respond quickly not only in the face of a crisis, but also when an unforeseen marketing opportunity presents itself, experts say.

For instance, when the 2013 Super Bowl dissolved into darkness due to a blackout at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, leaving football fans on site and at home waiting for play to resume, one brand created situation-appropriate messaging on the fly and later received kudos from industry experts for its quick response. Representatives from Deerfield, Ill.-based Mondelēz International Inc.’s Oreo brand were watching the game with members of their team from New York-based marketing agency 360i, and when the blackout occurred, the team sprang to action, posting a photo of an Oreo cookie on the brand’s social media pages with the slogan, “You can still dunk in the dark.” The image was shared on Twitter and Facebook more than 20,000 times, and garnered 525 million earned media impressions, allowing the message to reach five times the number of people who actually watched the Super Bowl, according to 360i.

Here’s how to develop and execute rapid-response messaging to capitalize on an opportunity, or to protect your brand during a crisis.

1. Develop a brand voice. Responding quickly takes a lot of upfront preparation. The seeds of Oreo’s Super Bowl post, for example, were sewn months before the event. The summer before the 2013 Super Bowl, 360i ran a 100-day campaign called “The Daily Twist,” creating fresh social media content every day based on timely and culturally relevant information, including posting an image of a rainbow-colored Oreo for Gay Pride Day.  

“We had been working with Oreo for a few years and had been building muscle memory for how to create the right voice for the brand on social media for a while,” says Sarah Hofstetter, CEO of 360i. “Working hand in hand with the brand and legal departments for that campaign gave us guardrails for creating content on the fly. Developing that foundation, that tone of voice, the look and feel really are the key foundational components to being able to seize on cultural moments. Fast-forward to the Super Bowl. Oreo was a Super Bowl advertiser, so we hunkered down in the 360i offices to watch the game and monitor the conversation on social media. When the lights went out, the question was, ‘Is there something here?’ ”  

2. Get buy-in promptly. “Because the client was with us, we were able to create content and get approvals super quickly. Oreo’s brand manager was in the room and she approved it immediately,” Hofstetter says. 

Getting approval from your C-suite and legal team in a timely manner is a crucial part of every rapid-response plan, particularly in the event of a crisis, says Gil Rudawsky, vice president at GroundFloor Media Inc., a Denver-based marketing agency that specializes in crisis communications. “Get your executives and your legal team in a room, and show them some case studies from other brands of how quickly things move, so when you respond online, the process is streamlined and you won’t need to wait eight hours for legal to approve a tweet that you want to post right away.”  

He suggests creating a generic “holding statement” with your legal team and C-suite that you can post on your website and social media channels while you work on crafting an official response. “Even if you don’t have all of the information, just being prompt and saying, ‘We know something’s going on, we’ll look into it and we’ll provide more information when we know it,’ helps to let people know you’re on top of it. It doesn’t let the chatter go crazy and explode.”  

3. Draft the best players. Having a plan and a dedicated crisis team in place ahead of time helped Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp., which operates Harrah’s, Caesars and Horseshoe resorts and casinos, to respond quickly when, in 2002, members of the Hell’s Angels started a gunfight with a rival gang at the Harrah’s casino in Laughlin, Nev., killing three bikers and injuring several guests. “We had already put together a crisis communication team that included corporate communications, marketing and legal,” says Jan Jones Blackhurst, executive vice president of communications and government relations at Caesars. “The incident happened at 2 a.m. and the marketing team was assembled by 4 a.m. We had contained the situation, set up communication with our employees and our guests, and finally held a press conference with the city to explain the situation at 11 a.m.  

“We had to make sure the situation was under control safety-wise, but also perceptually pretty quickly and you can’t try to assemble the appropriate team once the crisis has happened. You need to know ahead of time who you want on the front lines as the decision-making team and what their contact numbers are.” 

4. Stay on call. Monitor your brand’s social media channels around the clock, Rudawsky says. “If something happens online, or on Twitter or a Facebook page, and you immediately respond, you can sometimes diffuse the situation before it blows up. Social media disasters rarely happen between 8 and 5. They happen at 2 a.m. You have to monitor 24 hours a day. You can’t wait until 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning when your team rolls in to see what’s going on.”  

5. Be flexible. “You can have plans in place, but you really need to roll with the punches,” Rudawsky says. “For Oreo, even though they probably had an outline of all of the tweets they were going to do throughout the game, it was brilliant when someone there thought [the blackout] was a good opportunity to have fun with the situation. You have to have that nimbleness and have the trust in your communications team to respond quickly.”



Author Bio:
Christine Birkner
Christine Birkner is the senior staff writer for Marketing News and Marketing News Exclusives. E-mail her at
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