What’s the difference between Crisis Communications and Reputation Management?
Crisis communications professionals are used to getting panicked calls from current or potential clients. Sometimes these calls come from organizations that are expecting bad press and want to get ahead. Sometimes the bad press just happened and needs to be addressed before the story becomes even bigger. And sometimes organizations call because they are concerned because the bad press just keeps following them around.
A crisis is immediate. It’s a fire that you need to put out, but the damage from that fire can have a long-term impact on your reputation. As Warren Buffet famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
What is a Communications Crisis?
A crisis is anything that can damage the reputation of your organization. It can cause a loss of trust or pose a risk to the safety of staff, patients, volunteers, the public or other stakeholders. Things happen quickly during a crisis, but there are certain common factors that will arise regardless of the reason for the crisis:
- There is a lack of sufficient information. At first, facts can be hard to come by. There will be pressure to respond and a tendency to speculate.
- You can easily lose control of the message or the narrative. Rumors are flying and others are telling their own side of the story that may or may not be accurate.
- Things will escalate quickly. Video and photos are being shared on social media, and opinions are being formed before you even have a chance to decide how to respond.
- There will be intense public scrutiny from the media and community members, especially if there has been a serious injury or death. People will demand answers.
- You will be facing difficult and potentially hostile questions. When you feel attacked, you naturally start to sound defensive and there is an instinct to blame others.
Crisis Communication Basics
Rule number one: Have a plan ready before a crisis happens rather than trying to figure out what to do in the middle of one. Do not be caught off guard.
- Your crisis plan should designate the members of your crisis team and outline each team member’s responsibilities. It should include checklists for various scenarios, stakeholder contact information, and templates for media statements and social media posts.
- If you have an existing plan, make sure you update it at least twice a year. Include realistic scenarios like COVID-19, social justice demonstrations or a ransomware attack. Conduct training runs using mock scenarios so that when a real crisis happens everyone knows what to do.
- If you don’t have a plan, engage a public relations firm that specializes in crisis communications. Work with the agency to draft a comprehensive crisis communications plan and conduct crisis communications training for your team. Practice, practice, practice.
- Always respond rapidly and transparently. The longer you wait, the more time you give someone else to frame the story.
- Never speculate. Make sure you gather all the facts you need. If you don’t know an answer, don’t guess.
- Always express concern and compassion.
- Do not get defensive, do not blame others.
- Never, ever say no comment.
How will you know if it would be better to respond or not respond? Ask yourself these questions and the answer will be obvious.
- What would a reasonable person expect a responsible organization to do?
- Would silence be seen as not caring or a sign of guilt?
- Are others already framing the story?
Your personal or brand reputation is the most valuable thing you own. As PR pros, managing our brand’s reputation and helping it bounce back after a crisis is our responsibility. Depending on the severity and the outcome of the crisis, that brand can suffer significant long-term damage that can require a long time and a significant investment to repair.
Wells Fargo, Volkswagen, United Airlines, Cross Fit, Boeing, Lori Laughlin, the CDC, the nursing home industry, are all recent examples of damaged brand reputations resulting from poorly managed crisis communications.
Once you have lost the trust of your stakeholders or the public, it can be very hard to earn it back. The question then, is how to repair the damage once you have managed the crisis. Clients often ask us if we can magically make negative posts go away. Here’s the truth:
- You can’t make negative stories disappear. It’s out there and people will find them, sometimes at the top of the Google page.
- You can however, begin pushing down those negative mentions by proactively developing positive media stories and owned media content.
- Establish your thought leadership by creating blog articles, email newsletters, and boosting your social media engagement.
- Develop a community relations campaign to help your brand begin to earn back lost trust.
Repairing a damaged reputation requires a sustained commitment and the support of senior leadership. It must be an honest, sincere, attempt to restore trust or it will not be seen as authentic. You cannot do this half-heartedly. You blew it once, don’t allow yourself blow it again.
Crisis communication and reputation management use different approaches but go hand in hand. You can’t always avoid a crisis or completely protect your reputation, but a solid plan can help you be as prepared as possible to minimize the damage.
Hire a PR Firm for Crisis Communications Support
If you are dealing with a crisis communications situation or need help with reputation management, our team of crisis communications experts may be able to help. Click here to send us an email or give us a call at 303-733-3441.