REPUTATION MANAGEMENT: crisis planning, prevention and brand protection

Earlier this month, we teamed up with legal firm Foot Anstey to run a roundtable masterclass in Bristol.  The subject?  ‘Crisis planning, preparation and brand protection’. Here’s our round-up of top tips and watch outs.

It is inevitable, because we are only human, that things do go wrong.  But it’s the preparation for such things that can help stop an issue turning into a crisis, or dare I say, a crisis turning into a catastrophe.

‘Crisis communication’ is often the part of the job that we put to the back of a very long to-do list. And even a well-handled plan operationally can be let down when the communications around it haven’t quite been nailed down.  For example, food companies, restaurants, hotels etc. are generally well-equipped and ready to handle investigations around food contamination, e-coli and even product recalls.  But what about the communications – internal and external?   What can and can’t be said, from both a legal and brand perspective, and by which individuals within the business?  There is also a host of other issues which can, and do, occur that can affect all businesses – data breach, blackmail, a fatality – and even a CEO’s extracurricular activities.

For those who couldn’t make the event, we promised to share some top tips and watch-outs, so please do have a read.

  • Be aware of what is being said about you online. It’s the perception of the public – your guests if you are a hotel, your customers and consumers if you a food / drink manufacturer, or your stakeholders and financial contributors if you are a charity. Listen and be aware.
  • The world is now fuelled by citizen journalists – everyone has something to say and a place to say it…
  • So where do we get involved? We believe in being joined up. In a crisis, a brand will often have both legal and PR representing them, but what we offer is a joined-up approach from the outset.   It’s efficient, effective and, of course, a cost benefit.
  • It also requires planning… preparation is everything. Time spent now will save time and money in the future.
  • We reviewed stakeholders and influencers… there’s more than you think:
    • Employees/families
    • News media
    • Social communities
    • Board of directors
    • Supply chain
    • Neighbours and community leaders
    • Contractors
    • Emergency services
    • Customers
    • Regulators
    • Industry thought leaders
    • Government leaders
    • NGOs
    • Investors, funders, donors
    • + The right internal departments: HR, customer service, legal, landlords, agencies
  • And how to prepare?
    • Let’s start with a dedicated ‘crisis team’ – a group of senior decision makers
    • Identify the risks facing your business, the likely issues versus impact
    • Have the right procedures, policies and culture in place
    • Identify your spokespeople and prepare them with media training
    • Tone of voice and language is key – corporate versus caring – it’s a gentle balance
    • Prepare skeleton response start points: Q&As, statements
    • Have a social response strategy
    • Define your team’s roles and the handling process
  • We then agreed some of the key take-outs…
    • Prepare for the worst!
    • Practice and rehearse – annually!
    • Think broad about all the groups you need to talk to, otherwise those missed out will talk about you off-message
    • Talk like a real person in your response
    • It’s real people who will be reading what you say and making a judgement based on that
    • Transparency and honesty without incurring liability
    • Don’t over respond. Less can be more

I have tried to cram a two-hour session into a 600 word piece, but hope this helps.  Thanks to those who came.

For legal comms advice and brand comms support please contact either me Georgie Upton or my colleague Jennifer Agate at Foot Anstey.  We will be running further sessions in London and Truro later in the year – more details to follow, but do let us know if you would like to register early.