What to do when you are hit by a reputational crisis
All companies face it at some stage – that dreaded reveal of information that you wouldn’t necessarily want in the public domain. And, while it is easy to try and manage negative media coverage by simply keeping quiet, or giving the dubious “No comment”, that is often the worst approach to take.
I remember years ago as a PR rookie, listening to one of my superiors advising a client that was facing a potential PR crisis to “put on your best suit and be bold in your approach”. At the time, I was uncertain whether this was the right approach, considering they would have to face and answer a series of unwanted and uncomfortable questions. Looking back at that incident, and considering recent revelations and reactions by corporates, I believe it was the right approach. While the client was uncomfortable at the time, they emerged from the crisis much stronger, because they were honest.
They were honest enough to admit they had made a mistake and done something wrong. They were honest and upfront about how they were going to deal with the issue and what remedies would be put in place to prevent it from ever happening again. And they were honest enough to keep communications channels open and give regular updates on progress. That is what made the difference.
So, how do you approach a potential reputational crisis?
Firstly, ensure you always have a solid crisis communications plan in place and make sure your entire company understands the process. This should include details around what constitutes a crisis, who must be informed when a crisis hits and who is authorised to respond to any queries that might arise. Should you have a PR agency, make sure they are involved in developing the crisis communications strategy so that they can support you effectively in times of need.
The most important advice that I give clients is that times of crisis need quick, transparent and truthful communications. You cannot hide from a crisis – when things go wrong, put on your best suit, be bold and speak the truth. In the long term, you will do far less damage to your reputation and your customers are far more likely to forgive your mistake if you are honest and show a willingness to fix it.