Crisis management: How a dark website will bring a brand back to the light

by Amanda Plachte

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After almost two years of legal disputing, the Beastie Boys and Monster Energy have settled their copyright infringement case with $1.7 million awarded to the former.  Following Monster Energy’s 2012 release of its promotional video for the annual snowboarding competition, Ruckus in the Rockies, the Beastie Boys discovered the unauthorized use of some of their songs.  Not only did the two surviving members of the New York-native trio, Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, consider this stealing but they feel that the video also implied an endorsement for the energy drink brand on the band’s behalf.  Formed in 1981, the Beastie Boys agreed long ago to never permit the commercial use of their work.

As mentioned in this Chicago Tribune article, Monster Energy’s attorney, Reid Kahn, acknowledged his client’s erroneous infringement but claims that the error falls upon an individual employee whom mistakenly believed to have obtained the permission.  In response to the allegations of an implied third-party endorsement, Kahn says the claims are “contrary to common sense” and the band is spinning a “tale of an insidious corporate conspiracy”.

Representing the Beastie Boys, attorney Kevin Puvalowski says of Monster, “They didn’t care if their employees were stealing.”

Because you can’t, you won’t and you don’t stop

…Defending your good name, that is.  In many ways, situations like this just become a giant mess of “he said, she said,” So, what can an organization such as Monster do when its name gets associated with a crisis?

Author Dennis Bailey believes the key to handling a crisis is with a dark website. In his October 2012, post, Why a Dark Website Should be in Your Crisis Management Plan, Bailey explains that it is a web page or a website that is prepared well in advance of any crisis. It sits on the company’s server invisible to the public; however, should a crisis hit, the dark website is quickly modified and published, providing all the latest information concerning the crisis. Basically, it is a powerful PR trick up your sleeve.

The dark site should contain:

  • All the available facts about the crisis – what happened and what specific steps the company is taking to respond.
  • Special instructions telling those affected by the crisis what they must or must not do.
  • Background information and an FAQ about the company and any relevant information that promotes a better understanding of what the company does and how the crisis occurred.
  • Contact information and email addresses for the news media.
  • Statements from the top company officials.
  • Contact information for members of the public affected by the crisis (a 24-hour toll-free line is best, along with a Twitter feed and hash tag).
  • Regular and timely updates.

When a crisis occurs, the company website is one of the first places that people will look for information. If there is no current information regarding the crisis, or worse, the website has a “business as usual” feel and it can make the company look bad. In the face of a crisis, an organization must make every attempt to stay on top of the situation. Having information readily available for the public is just one of the ways to do just that.

Not to pick on Monster, but Bailey uses them as a case-and-point example. After the deaths of several people were associated with the consumption of the highly caffeinated energy drinks, Monster’s website was still full of athletes, race cars and the signature “Monster Girls.” Although the company had released a statement defending its brand, Monster did nothing to provide up-to-date information on its website. This can only cause people to get their news elsewhere.

It’s not how you play the game; it’s how you win it

Unfortunately, no website, regardless of how much information is provided, is going to save an organization in the courtroom. A dark website would not have affected Monster’s court case with the Beastie Boys; however, in the PR world, we know that the court of public opinion can have a much stronger impact on the image of a company. Efforts such as a strong crisis management plan can be the saving grace in a situation like this. Maybe next time, Monster.

Tell us what you think! Have you ever seen a dark website utilized in a crisis?  Don’t forget to “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Pinterest.

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