In an industry like craft spirits where brand reputation and customer trust are paramount to success, the ability to respond swiftly and effectively during times of crisis is crucial. Whether it’s a product recall, a political issue, or a viral social media campaign, you must be prepared to protect your brand and know how to navigate through challenging situations.

In this article, we will delve into the best practices for crisis communication in the craft distilling industry, provide insights on how to prepare for a crisis, communicate with stakeholders, and rebuild trust and recover post-crisis.

Preparing for a Crisis

Effective crisis communication starts with thorough preparation before you run into a crisis. You must proactively identify potential risks and develop a comprehensive crisis management plan for your distillery and brand. This starts with conducting a thorough risk assessment. Here are a few circumstances to consider planning for:

Product recalls

  • Supply chain disruptions
  • Price increases
  • Environmental incidents
  • Employee misconduct
  • Social or political issues

By anticipating a potential crisis, you can establish protocols and contingencies that will enable a swift and coordinated response when the need arises.

One crucial aspect of crisis preparedness is establishing clear lines of communication and designated roles within your distillery before those roles are needed. Identify a crisis response team composed of key individuals from various departments to ensure a coordinated, swift, and unified approach. This team should include representatives or trusted partners from management, public relations, legal, customer service, marketing, HR, and any relevant operational areas specific to the situation. Each team member should have a defined role and responsibilities to minimize confusion and streamline decision-making processes during a crisis.

You should also consider establishing relationships with external stakeholders who sometimes play a critical role during a crisis. These stakeholders may include regulatory authorities, industry associations, suppliers, distributors, agencies, and local community organizations. Building these relationships and maintaining open lines of communication in normal circumstances can facilitate smoother collaboration and support during a crisis.

Another essential aspect of crisis preparedness is conducting regular training and simulations. You should regularly train your crisis response team members on crisis communication protocols, media handling, and decision-making under pressure. Simulations and drills can help identify potential gaps in the crisis management plan and allow for adjustments and improvements. By practicing crisis scenarios, you can enhance your team’s confidence in handling unforeseen challenges.

Furthermore, you should establish monitoring or listening systems to stay aware of potential crisis triggers. This includes actively monitoring social media platforms, industry news, and public sentiment surrounding your brand. Early detection of an issue could allow for a timelier response and can mitigate the risk of crises escalating. Make sure you are using social listening tools and media monitoring with programs like Google Alerts to proactively address emerging issues before they escalate into full-blown crises.

Communicating During a Crisis

Once a crisis emerges, you need to communicate transparently and effectively with your stakeholders. This is the key to managing a crisis and minimizing its impact on brand reputation and customer trust. Acting quickly and taking responsibility for the situation is paramount in demonstrating accountability.

To effectively communicate during a crisis, it is essential to designate a trained spokesperson as the primary point of contact. This spokesperson should be well-versed in crisis communication protocols and media handling, capable of delivering consistent messages and managing media inquiries. By having a designated spokesperson, you ensure a unified and controlled flow of information and minimize the risk of miscommunication or conflicting statements.

Utilizing multiple communication channels is vital to reach a wide range of audiences and ensure that the message is effectively delivered. Depending on the situation, you should consider leveraging social media platforms, press releases, website updates, newsletters, and other relevant channels to disseminate accurate and timely information. Each channel provides an opportunity to tailor the messaging to the specific needs and preferences of different audiences.

During a crisis, regular updates should be provided to keep customers and stakeholders informed. These updates should address their concerns and provide them with the necessary information to make informed decisions. By keeping the lines of communication open, you can demonstrate your commitment to transparency and your willingness to address any issues or questions that arise.

In addition to providing information, demonstrating empathy and accountability is crucial in maintaining trust with stakeholders and consumers. You should show genuine concern for the impact of the crisis on your customers and stakeholders. Express empathy and understanding for any inconvenience or harm caused, and outline the steps being taken to rectify the situation. By showing empathy and taking responsibility, you can foster trust and reassurance among your stakeholders and consumers.

Furthermore, it is essential to address any misinformation or rumors that may arise during a crisis. You should actively monitor social media platforms and other channels to swiftly identify and address false information. By promptly responding to misinformation and providing accurate information, you can prevent the spread of rumors and maintain the credibility of your brand.

Real-World Examples

A compelling real-world case that showcases the challenges of crisis communication in the craft alcohol industry is the transformation of Dixie Beer, a long-standing favorite among the people of Louisiana. In the wake of the widespread outcry over racial injustice and the removal of symbols associated with the era of slavery in 2020, the brewery took a significant step. Recognizing the Confederate connotations tied to the term “Dixie,” they decided to rebrand their brewery, unveiling it under the new name Faubourg Brewing Co. after significant market research. This strategic move aimed to embrace inclusivity and address concerns raised by customers and stakeholders. By acknowledging the historical context and proactively undertaking a rebranding effort, Dixie Beer successfully navigated the crisis, reinforcing its commitment to racial equality and societal progress.

The transformation of Dixie Beer to Faubourg Brewing Co. serves as a powerful example of crisis communication in the craft alcohol industry, highlighting the brewery’s ability to navigate a potential upcoming crisis that was not only socially and politically charged but also deeply rooted in historical symbolism. This case demonstrates the importance of understanding and responding to the evolving dynamics of society, even in the face of challenges that extend beyond the realm of traditional business crises.

Another example is a distillery in Washington State that approached our team for assistance in preparing for any potential negative response to a necessary price increase. After meeting with the distillery, we developed a communication plan. This plan outlined the messages the client wanted to convey, including their communication goals and objectives, as well as the key points they wanted to emphasize. We then devised individual plans for each group that needed to be informed about the price increase, such as distributors, shareholders, internal staff, social media, and the general public/press.

Each group had a specific communication channel and received tailored messaging. For instance, we created a simple one-page document for the staff, which included bullet points to help them communicate the changes to customers in case they were asked about the price increase. This course of action to develop internal documentation related to the price increase and proactively scripted responses for anticipated customer service questions and/or potential backlash or PR related to a price increase shows the value of proactive thinking and preparation. The co-owner recounts his experience: “We had a great response from shareholders and customers alike. In fact, we’ve never received as much positive feedback as we did from these posts. It’s great to go into this change with confidence that we’ve got the support of our backers.”

Rebuilding Trust and Recovery

Once a crisis is contained, the focus shifts toward rebuilding trust and recovering from the impact. You must assess the extent of the crisis’s effects on your brand reputation and customer trust. This involves conducting thorough evaluations and feedback analysis to understand the specific concerns and sentiments of your target audience. A crucial step in the recovery process is offering sincere apologies to affected customers. You should acknowledge the impact of the crisis on your customers and express genuine remorse for any harm or inconvenience caused. Transparently sharing the steps taken to rectify the situation and prevent future occurrences demonstrates accountability and a commitment to improvement.

A notable example illustrating the effectiveness of transparent crisis communication is Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s voluntary recall of select products in 2017. Demonstrating its commitment to quality and customer safety, the brewery took to its social media channels to address the issue directly. They communicated the following message to their loyal Sierra Nevada fans, friends, and family:

“To our Sierra Nevada fans, friends, and family,

You may have seen our name in the news this morning. We have issued a voluntary recall of select Sierra Nevada bottles in Midwest, Southern, and East Coast states.

As a family-owned and operated brewery, we’ve been committed to quality since 1980. Even though this flaw affects fewer than 1 in 10,000 bottles, we believe it is our responsibility to retrieve and replace any potentially flawed bottles in those states to ensure the beer, and packaging, in your hand is always of the highest quality.”

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s transparent communication approach acknowledged the situation, expressed their dedication to quality, and emphasized their commitment to addressing any potential issues promptly. By proactively informing their customers through social media, they established open and honest communication channels, assuring their audience that they were taking swift action to resolve the situation. The social media post received over 300 comments, with an overwhelming majority expressing support and appreciation for Sierra Nevada’s proactive approach and commitment to maintaining quality standards. This response from their audience further demonstrated the power of transparent communication in building trust and maintaining a positive brand image during a crisis.

Engaging in open dialogue with customers and stakeholders is vital for rebuilding trust. You should actively listen to your customers’ concerns, and address them promptly, politely, and transparently. This open communication fosters transparency and helps rebuild confidence in the brand’s integrity and commitment to customer satisfaction. In addition to open dialogue, you can consider offering solutions or compensation to affected customers where appropriate. This may involve providing refunds, replacements, or special promotions as a gesture of goodwill. Such proactive measures show that you take responsibility for your actions and genuinely care about your customers.

Another way to regain credibility is to leverage the power of influencers and brand advocates. Working with industry social media influencers who share the same values as your brand and have a positive reputation can be a valuable strategy for rebuilding trust and expanding your reach to a wider audience. Industry influencers are individuals or entities who have established credibility and a significant following within the craft distilling industry. By partnering with influencers who align with your brand’s values, you can leverage their influence and reputation to enhance your brand’s credibility and reach. However, it’s essential to approach influencer collaborations with transparency and authenticity. The partnership should be based on mutual understanding and shared objectives, rather than solely on promotional motives. Influencers should genuinely believe in your brand and crisis response, as this authenticity is key to building trust and credibility with their audience.

Brand advocates can also play a vital role in spreading positive word-of-mouth and vouching for your future commitment. For example, highlighting your quick response to a crisis and your plans to prevent the crisis in the future can further reestablish credibility after a product recall crisis. You should emphasize any new policies that you have put into place, your commitment to quality, and your adherence to industry standards. This approach reaffirms your credibility and helps reclaim trust among customers and stakeholders. You need to approach the recovery phase patiently and as an opportunity for growth and improvement. By incorporating feedback and making necessary adjustments to your operations, processes, and communication strategies, you can demonstrate your commitment to continuous improvement and building a resilient and trustworthy brand.

In conclusion, crisis communication is a critical aspect of managing and protecting your craft distillery’s brand and reputation. Navigating through challenging situations can be done effectively by following best practices and preparing for potential crises. First and foremost, this includes being proactive and ready to handle potential crises rather than waiting to figure out your process when the first crisis hits. Conducting risk assessments, establishing clear lines of communication, and developing a crisis management plan is key to being prepared. While it’s easy to put these types of activities off in favor of more immediately pressing business needs, your whole team will achieve better results knowing the brand they work for has values and is ready to stand up for those values appropriately when the time comes.