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When thinking about a crisis that could affect your company or brand’s reputation, there are a few important things to remember.
1. Strong leadership
In the past 18 months I have seen more and more how leadership can have a direct impact on the outcome of a crisis, particularly with regard to the ongoing Covid pandemic. Some enterprises, with strong leadership that is prepared to take decisive action, have fared better than others. Similarly, in terms of a reputational crisis you need the leadership team of a company to be prepared to act and lead from the front.
2. Ownership of the story
The normal course of action when faced with a developing situation is to gather the relevant role players and all the data and information to hand. The challenge is that it is very possible that the story – possibly an incorrect version of it – is already in the media or on social channels. We live in a world of a rolling 24-hour news cycle with the ability for news to travel globally in a second. Sadly, though, the ability to share does not always equate with the ability to share the facts – this makes taking command and maintaining control much harder for organisations. Approve and send out communications (either proactively or reactively) as quickly as possible. Not saying anything can be as damaging as continuing to fuel a conversation that was dying down.
3. Proactive action on behalf of those affected
While accidents happen and things can go wrong, it’s vital to show concern and care for those involved. You should immediately be able to explain what you know, (even if all you can say is that you’re investigating) and what you are doing to put things right ultimately – in other words, what your commitment is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We can probably all cite examples of situations where we felt there was a lack of concern by those in charge as well as an absence of any accountability.
4. Clear, proactive and continuous communication both internally and externally
There are always multiple stakeholders to consider. And they all have different needs. Customers or clients want to know how this will affect their service delivery. Employees may be asked questions by family and friends and so they need to know what is happening. And, as mentioned above, the media can be a great ally in helping to get the story out there in a controlled manner. Often clients are concerned that the “media will be out to get them”. But this isn’t the case. The media wants the story; they want the facts. Of course, you may never have as much information as you want, but keeping the media informed can help to maintain your reputation.
5. Well-trained spokespeople and management teams
Being a spokesperson for a company is a big responsibility, as you are in many ways a guardian of reputation. You do, however, have the ability to be in charge of the situation if you are adequately trained. There are specific techniques that adept spokespeople use to ensure that the conversation centres on the narrative they want to get across. You should never lie and never say “no comment”. The latter is a wasted opportunity to get your message across.
While a crisis can’t always be predicted and planned for, with the right approach you can maintain and possibly even boost your reputation when such an event occurs.
Jennifer Leppington-Clark is MD at Hill+Knowlton Strategies SA.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.