As a business, your brand is (or at least it should be) the personification of your values. An intangible, but nonetheless potent emotional connection to your business that’s held by all your stakeholders, from customers to investors.
It’s something that is developed over time, evolving yes, but always staying true to your core ethos. So it stands to reason that, just as you have taken measures to ensure business continuity in a practical sense, you should lavish the same care and attention on your brand. So that when a crisis hits – as it invariably will to some extent or other – you are as well prepared as possible to weather the storm with your business’ reputation intact.
We haven’t had to look far for PR disasters over the past year. From Partygate to P&O, poor (OK catastrophically bad) communications decisions have rarely been far from the headlines. Decimating stakeholders’ trust, and doing irreparable damage to the reputations of individuals, businesses and political parties.
So if the behemoths of the business and political world can get it wrong, what can us mere mortals do to preserve our brands’ hard-earned and preciously held reputations? Quite a lot, as it happens…
Fail to plan, and you are planning to fail
If you do one thing, it’s this. Write a plan. Factor in every possible element and contingency. Get all the relevant people in your organisation to feed into it, and review it.
Prepare for the unexpected – ensure there is enough flexibility in your plan to deal with circumstances that couldn’t have been predicted.
Take yourself out of the plan – is much of the insider info in your head? Would it still make sense to those implementing it if you’re out of the equation? It’s important to make sure the information is accessible and comprehensible to everyone concerned. Get others to double-check that this is the case.
And then, leave it on a metaphorical shelf to gather dust? Absolutely not – circumstances change, personnel come and go – so you’ll need to revisit the plan regularly, with everyone who has a role to play or will be impacted in some way. It should be a live document – you will need to put it into practice and stress test it with exercises so that you are ready to roll it out for real at any given moment.
Respond as quickly and as transparently as possible
History has shown us time and again that playing ostrich – or indeed overt denial which is later proven to be false (hello Boris) – is the worst possible course of action in a crisis. In our metaverse of rolling 24 hour news and viral social media, it’s absolutely crucial to take stock of the situation immediately and respond appropriately in a timely fashion.
You should already have identified key roles as part of your emergency communications plan, so now it’s time for your team to liaise with the executive team to finalise the pre-prepared holding statement for issue across social and traditional media outlets. At this stage, you should only be finalising the statement by inserting specific details.
If there is a vacuum, it will be filled, and generally not in a way that will reflect well on your business. For example, when it was announced that HM the Queen had passed away last year, much media attention was focused on Aberdeen Airport to capture the arrival of the Royal family. Two contractors who were working airside spotted the cameras trained on them and took the opportunity to do the floss. Cue a media outcry about the airport’s insensitivity at this sombre time. It wasn’t ideal for their team to be responding to reputation challenges of this nature when they were flat-out dealing with the huge operational demands on them at this time.
Speed matters during a crisis, and taking too long to respond can be damaging to your reputation. Organisations should respond quickly and clearly with the information they are at liberty to share at that moment. Responding too late will leave your business liable to a backlash.
Keep your friends close
When it’s all hands on-deck, ensuring that you’re liaising with a myriad of external stakeholders from the media to the police, it’s easy to forget that those within your organisation are also stakeholders. A key element of your plan should be to build in mechanisms for keeping your team updated and informed, particularly as events impact on them and their positions.
Know when to ask for help
When crisis hits, your team is very much greater than the sum of its parts. Everyone will need to play their role, and ask for support where needed, and this applies out with your organisation too. For example, it may be a 24-hour operation until the initial emergency is resolved, and therefore you will physically require more people than in the normal scheme of things. Collaborative working is paramount here – pulling together for the greater good.
At Bold St, we work closely with our clients to develop, and where necessary implement Crisis Communications plans that inherently reflect the good practice outlined here. By being proactive, considered, transparent and responsive, we support our clients to preserve the reputation of their brand with all their stakeholders. After all,
“Your brand is not what you say it is. It is what they say it is.” - Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap.