Why Reputation Management is Important
Last week I had three clients call me, all in the thick of trying to control an emerging or developing issue. Two organizations were looking for advice on how to be proactive, while the third was trying to convince its board of the value (and importance) of getting outside help. What they had in common was they were each scrambling to protect their organization’s reputation in the face of potential negative media exposure.
Two of three organizations immediately began working with me, while the third continues to wrangle through getting board approval (while their issue plays out in the media).
So here’s what happened (while protecting the confidentiality of my clients). The first organization just needed to talk through the issue and various strategies to help mitigate it with the goal being to protect the organization’s reputation. While this organization has a strong communications team, they were wise enough to see the value in bringing in a fresh perspective. Someone who is not in the thick of the issue, but rather can provide impartial insights.
In under an hour, I was able to help the client dissect various issues, talk through some strategies, and provide recommendations for the team to run with.
With the second organization, I spent the week writing messaging, talking through various issues as they arose, as well as educating staff on why getting out early is so crucial when it comes to reputation management. You never want to wait until the issue is public to formulate your response. Otherwise you are chasing the issue, always two steps behind, instead of being out in-front and prepared.
This doesn’t mean you jump to call the media and lay out the issue for them. Rather it’s about taking the time to get prepared. Here are some basic questions I worked through with both clients.
- Who is your media spokesperson?
- What are your key messages?
- What information is public?
- Who is involved in this issue?
- Who do I need to brief (board, senior management, other stakeholders)?
So why is reputation management so important? Think back on recent negative stories in the media. Whether it is a food recall, political scandal or judgement error by an executive, it doesn’t take much to destroy the reputation of an organization. Delaying dealing with the issue (even by one day) further erodes the organization’s reputation. While it can take mere minutes or hours to destroy a reputation, it can take weeks, months even years to rebuild trust and credibility.
Value of being proactive
At the end of the day, working with the two organizations that chose to be proactive, we were able to dissect the issue, look for practical solutions and come up with messaging that helped minimize the impact. This was about being open, honest and transparent versus trying to hide information or put a spin on it (which only makes matters worse).
As for the third, they continue struggling along with an internal struggle between wanting help and thinking the issue will just blow over if they don’t comment. How this will ultimately play out and impact their reputation is yet to be seen.
Think back to what issues you have dealt with in your professional or volunteer life. How were they handled? Were people in your organization hoping by sweeping it under the rug and not talking it would all go away? Or did the organization (or you) take a proactive approach in putting all the pieces on the table, dissecting the issue, coming up with a communications strategy and being proactive (either with stakeholders or the media)? What would do differently in the future? Any lessons learned?
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