Public opinion; it’s all that matters in this industry. Public opinion can be a stronger force than any lawsuit, any criminal allegation, and any investigation. Once the media gets a hold of a public challenge to a brand’s reputation, whether it’s because of a lawsuit, investigation or recall, the public becomes the ultimate judge. And once this happens, ideally before this happens, your public relations team must step up with some crisis communication and control.
Your brand’s identity and reputation are vital elements of increasing brand awareness and equity. If the public cannot trust your brand, does not feel connected to the experience, you will have trouble growing and thriving. Reputation is everything. In today’s environment where increased transparency and access to information online is abundant, a brand’s reputation can be evaluated and verified by just about anyone.
A brand’s reputation is a valuable asset, performing much like capital. If your organization and brand are regarded well in the public forum, it “gives that company a competitive advantage because this kind of company will be regarded as a reliable, credibly, trustworthy and responsible for employees, customers, shareholders and financial markets.”
A crisis communications manager will tell you that nothing is more important than a brand’s reputation. The brand reputation is its greatest asset, and protecting that asset should be the organization’s supreme concern. Technically speaking, crisis communication is “designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation.” Many times, whether a violation of the law is implied or not, public opinion weighs on ethical boundaries, and at this moment in our economic atmosphere financial indiscretions.
How to be Effective at Crisis Communication
Every public relations manager will have their own experience and techniques with crisis communication. However, below are a few tips we’ve compiled that should be implemented immediately as a public opinion crisis creeps up.
1. Stay Ahead of the Game By monitoring your brand online, as well as industry sentiment and organization reputation, you can stay ahead of the crisis. By maintaining an eye on social cues, you can anticipate a crisis before it happens. Stay proactive, always on guard for a possible crisis.
2. Have a Plan Get together with your marketing team, your advertising tea, and your public relations team to lay out a plan of action before the crisis ensues. If you have a crisis communication plan before something happens, you can smoothly implement that plan instantly as needed.
3. Acknowledge the Crisis to Your Audience When the crisis occurs, and you notice that it’s beginning to take hold, don’t try to hide it or sweep it under the rug. This will indeed come back to bite you, and in most cases it will bite harder if you ignore it. Whether or not the accusations are true, whether or not your company is to blame, you must acknowledge the issue and genuinely express empathy. So many times we see celebrities, politicians, corporation CEO’s, and sports figures apologize or express concern over an issue and the second the speak two words we know they’re not genuine. The acknowledgement becomes their downfall, and no matter the outcome in the legal battle or investigation, the public has made its decision based on an expression of presumed guilt.
4. Do Not Be Afraid of Transparency Very few brands, CEO’s and corporations have the courage, determination, and resources to be fully transparent. Transparency takes a team of expert brand and reputation managers who are helping to maintain your brand’s image. With such access to information online, there truly is no reason to hide aspects of your business. If your brand can remain transparent before a crisis occurs, your audience will be far more likely to trust your side of the story.
5. Own the Crisis The first 24 hours are crucial to any crisis communication and management. Your public relations team must be ready to own your brand message as soon as the crisis occurs. Bloggers, Twitter Users, Facebook Fans, and the media will take your story and twist it more ways than you can possibly imagine. What might have started as a simple miscommunication can morph into a reputation destroying headline. Your team must have a loud, consistent, transparent, genuine and assertive voice. This is where you call in all of your favors, get every media connection, blogger, and influential social guru to repeat your message.