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Protecting your reputation – what to do before a PR crisis hits

Why do some organisations respond well to a crisis when others make matters worse with a clumsy response?

Reputations can be made or destroyed by a company’s crisis response, so it’s not as if people are blind to the consequences.

But the truth is that some people just don’t know where to start, and then get overwhelmed, or panic.

After all, the communication demands of a crisis are immense, with a huge number of internal and external stakeholders all needing urgent but clear information at a time when there is no certainty about what has happened and there are likely to be significant legal constraints on what you can say.

It can be stressful and very confusing.

That’s why at Alder we urge our clients to consider a crisis like a project, with three distinct phases before, during and after a crisis event hits.  Bringing structure to how you communicate will ensure you speak consistently with the right tone of voice and without giving any hostages to fortune.  It will also help maintain a sense of order and calm.

Crisis comms manual

Any PR crisis is far easier to manage if you have properly planned for it.  But what does that mean in practice?  We are often asked if this means having a ‘crisis communications policy’.

And we reply: it does not.

Policies can be counterproductive as they can be wordy and difficult to extract useful information from in a hurry.  They also often get neglected and not kept updated.

What is needed, rather than a protocol or policy, is a manual – an indexed walk-through guide that is designed to save time and keep you on the front foot.  This essential document includes:

  • Checklists of activity you need to carry out. It’s easy to forget key things in a fast-moving situation.  And it’s just as important to remember what you should not
  • Contact details of key people.
  • Resources you can draw on – for instance external legal and professional advisers.
  • A list of stakeholders and who is responsible for communicating with them.
  • A scenario plan including draft statements for media and social media.

This will help you stay on the front foot and keep control of the communications in those crucial early stages of a crisis.

Building blocks for success

But that’s just one building block. In advance of a crisis you will also have:

  • Media trained your key spokespeople. Fluency comes from familiarity – and there is much to be gained from being ‘match fit’ for a communications challenge by having practised how you will respond to a range of different scenarios.
  • Put in place a ‘people plan’ to think specifically about how you will communicate with, and look after, the organisation’s most important asset: its staff. This is an important but often neglected area.
  • Developed external relationships with outside agencies such as the local authority, regulators or emergency services so there is a joint understanding of what each party will be doing during a crisis and how they can support one another.
  • Ensured you have effective media monitoring software in place so you can respond quickly as the coverage of the matter unfolds.
  • Have an SEO strategy in place for how you will deal with a potentially sudden and significant deterioration in your online reputation.

The truth is that much can be done to prevent a crisis becoming a PR catastrophe.

If you would like some information about Alder can help you with all this and more, please email us at [email protected] and one of us will be in touch.

In our next post we will consider what steps you should take to protect your reputation while a crisis is unfolding.

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