Great Reputations Are Not Accidental

Recently, I attended Maine Public Relations Council’s annual conference and the theme this year was around reputation management and crisis communication. Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist at Weber Shandwick, has been exposed to an unprecedented number of high profile corporate reputation crises and shared many tips on how to best manage this.

A couple tips that resonated with me that I would like to share with my fellow clients, other PR professionals and business colleagues are as follows: identifying your clients values and sticking to them, the right employees and culture is the best protection and be prepared for the worst case scenarios.

Identify A Mission Or Values And Stick To Them

If your company or client does not have a set mission or values, then you need to a) have your leadership identify them and b) ingrain them in the business culture. For example, The Coca-Cola Company has six corporate values (leadership, collaboration, integrity, accountability, passion, diversity and quality) that they abide by in their daily operations. Recently, The Coca-Cola Company’s German operations recalled its ready-to-drink iced tea brand, fuzetea, due to some of the bottles not meeting quality standards. Even though there was no health issue with the product, the company still recalled this product due to abiding by its value of quality. The Coca-Cola Company example did not deter the company’s reputation but I wanted to showcase this to show how well they stick to their values

Now let me bring up another example that has resulted in a fine line of bad and good reputation. Nike makes Colin Kaepernick the voice of their 30th Anniversary ad campaign and as you can see the press has blown it up. How does Nike handle it? By sticking to its mission of “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world”. Nike has used a diverse set of athletes to voice their brand and with their decision to choose Colin, they knew what they were getting into. They received a lot of bad publicity with the creation of two social media hashtags that brought a negative voice to their brand. But there was also a positive side of using Colin. According to Los Angeles Times, “Some critics of the Nike ad were quick to point out that Nike enjoyed $43 million in positive media exposure and their sales increased 31 percent, according to Apex Marketing Group.”

So you decide, was this campaign beneficial to Nike or not?

The Right Employees And Culture Is The Best Protection

Getting the right people in the door is hard, especially when you’re dealing with different generations, cultures, and lifestyles. Sometimes people aren’t a good fit in your business, but you learn that over time. If you have employees who are willing to go above and beyond in promoting your brand’s voice and motivate the people around them, then they will be long time brand ambassadors. But in order to encourage that employee to become a long time brand ambassador, your leadership needs to take care of them. Communication, motivation and good leadership are key in making this happen.

When big news hits the stands before your employees know about it, that’s a trust issue and you need to treat your employees like they’re a part of the team. Media may want to interview them about this big news and your employees will answer with a “I have no idea what you’re talking about…” Bad move on a company’s part. Provide employees with talking points and get them excited about whatever this news might be. Or if it’s bad news make sure they understand everything behind it and that they are coached in how to talk to media.

If your employees aren’t motivated and are treated poorly where they have no say in the work that they’re doing then that may lead to harsh words said behind the scenes to other employees or even people outside the company. The person outside of the company could be a media representative. All leadership needs to understand this and take precautions on how to better involve employees in decision making, team building, and leadership.

Lead and manage are two separate things. When someone leads they need to set a good example and teach an employee how to best utilize their skills. Employees will appreciate a good leader and lead by example. Leadership sets the tone of a business’ culture and is also showcased in media stories, good and bad. Try to make it good.

Be Prepared For The Worst Case Scenarios

Always come up to with a plan even if you don’t think a challenge will erupt. After attending this conference, I had a conversation with one of my client’s about this and this individual was appreciative of thinking outside the box in how issues could arise and how they can be solved even though their business is not crisis heavy. From bad customer service turned into a lawsuit to a disgruntled employee suing the CEO, you never know what will happen but a plan needs to be made.

Who do you bring to the table? A lawyer? Head of HR? Head of Accounting? It depends on the scenario but these are the types of things to think about. Everyone needs to be on the same page and have a consistent voice. The response to the issue needs to be addressed to the media in a quick timeframe but make sure your message is well thought out and best represents your client or business you work for.

I hope this was beneficial as it made me rethink how to approach crisis communications with my clients. Every business could have a crisis whether it’s an accounting firm, a clothing store or a fast food company. Think outside the box when prepping your client or business for communication to the public, internally or externally (stakeholders, partners).

Comment below if you have any thoughts or questions.

- Kristan

Kristan VermeulenComment