Hubbell Communications’ very own Chris Edmonds was recently featured in a Portland Business Journal story on a local brand’s public relations crisis. The article has been re-posted here for you to read his advice and expertise on what to do when your brand is in crisis.

Cloud hangs over Zoom health plan, but does ‘Sarah’ really care?

Portland Business Journal, June 14 2017

The FBI probe into allegations that Zoom Health Plan retroactively falsified medical claims is the latest blow to the embattled Portland health care brand.

The health insurance arm was already in receivership and winding down operations, when Oregon insurance regulators sued over a financial discrepancy on the plan’s books they said made it appear solvent when it was not.

Zoom officials, including the colorful and controversial co-founder and CEO Dr. Dave Sanders, have mostly declined to comment. They’ve disputed the Department of Consumer and Business Services’ assessment of the health plan’s financial health, saying it has $9 million cash in the bank. They also cast doubt on an ex-employee’s allegations that Zoom manipulated patient data to avoid paying into the federal government’s risk adjustment program.

The damage to the Zoom brand, though, is hard to calculate or predict. The health plan is separate from but affiliated with ZoomCare — 36 Portland-area and Seattle neighborhood clinics that promise on-demand, same-day services, on-line scheduling and transparent pricing.

While the clinics aren’t the focus of the probe, the question is whether they will suffer by association. How much does “Sarah” — Zoomspeak for its prototypical patient — care?
Maybe not much.

“I’m not really sure how deep this story will go into the consciousness of a normal person who uses ZoomCare,” said Jerry Ketel, creative director at the Portland branding agency Leopold Ketel. “That’s a specific person who wants to get in and get out and have a remedy for whatever is ailing them at the moment. I sort of wonder how much of a blip this would be on people’s radar.”

Many successful brands have recovered from crisis situations like the one Zoom faces, said Chris Edmonds, a principal at Hubbell Communications and crisis management expert.

“What the public will judge them on is how they respond to it. What’s critical is making sure that they are reacting in a nondefensive posture,” he said. “Any time you have a serious crisis on your on hands, the public is going to expect transparency and empathy and that you’re willing to be accountable for your actions.”

If an internal or external investigation reveals a company committed wrongdoing, it should make the necessary changes and keep the public informed, Edmonds said.

“The resolution phase is where a company needs to accept legitimate responsibility,” he said. “If they have something they need to apologize for, they make the apology and address the situation.”

Edmonds cites the example of Portland’s Bullseye Glass Co., which came under fire for using toxic heavy metals in its stained glass making. Bullseye installed a new filtering device last summer.

“They addressed the situation and built a lot of trust through that process that led the general public, clients and neighbors to see they’re operating in good faith,” said Edmonds, who advised Bullseye.

John Heitkemper, president of the Portland advertising agency Media Cabin, said for Zoom, what matters is how long the FBI probe drags on. “It could be pretty damaging to them, but if it’s dealt with quickly, I don’t imagine it will do too much damage at all,” Heitkemper said. “From what I see, it seems like it’s a very popular brand.”