Impostors

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    How do you cope when your brand gets hijacked?

    Today’s news includes the story of a hoax launched as an attack on coal company Peabody Energy. In short, an activist group calling itself Coal is Killing Kids developed a false campaign including a news release, a Coal Cares website and a Twitter account. The campaign positions itself as a Peabody Energy sponsored initiative (it’s not) to provide free inhalers and discounts for asthma medication for children living within 200 miles of a coal plant.

    This quote, from a post by Marijean Jaggers on the Jaggers Communication blog, brings to light an interesting and dangerous crisis. Simply due to the nature of their industry, a large number of businesses are guaranteed to upset people, and this impostor method can be devastating to an already-precarious reputation.

    Missouri-based Peabody Energy has been slow to respond, which makes its problem all the worse, choosing to issue a stodgy traditional statement on its website which, not surprisingly, major news outlets “failed to notice” when crafting their own stories on the issue.

    In order to save face, Peabody will have to go digital, engaging stakeholders in the same places they found the false campaign via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

    Through all of this, the energy company will have to go above and beyond to show that it is doing its best to run a safe and environmentally responsible program while promoting the large role that coal plays in our economy. With sufficient effort the current smear campaign will pass, and Peabody will be stronger against the inevitable ones to come.

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    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. , an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]