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5 ways to protect your company’s reputation during a crisis

5 ways to protect your company’s reputation during a crisis 1

By Jon Gilks, Account Manager, CommsCo

5 ways to protect your company’s reputation during a crisis 2

Jon Gilks, Account Manager, CommsCo

Whether it’s a global pandemic or a local power outage, no business is completely immune from a crisis. The global banking and finance sectors are no different. Most recently, the impact of Russian sanctions and the Ukraine War have been a major cause for concern in the industry.

For many business leaders, minimising disruption is the main priority in a crisis. As a result, the reputational impact is often an afterthought. However, the reputational impact of a crisis often lasts a lot longer than the initial operational disruption. For larger companies, a reputation that has taken years to build can be destroyed in hours due to a poor crisis communications approach. For smaller companies, the reputational impact of a poor crisis response can be irreparable.

Ultimately, a well-managed crisis communications response can help to minimise operational disruption as well as protecting a company’s reputation. In light of this, here are five tips to help boost your crisis communications response.

  1.       Be prepared

Preparation is key when responding to a crisis. Crisis events can be hugely stressful and business leaders may wish to act rashly which may have negative long-term impact. By being prepared for a crisis, you can build a more measured and robust response.

One way you can identify the nature of the crises that your company may face is by regularly horizon scanning and understanding what the key issues in the industry are. Will these issues affect your business? If so, when?

From there, identify the three highest risk crises and plan how you would respond to them. Crisis plans can vary in detail but even preparing a simple holding line can buy you valuable time in the event of a crisis.

  1.       Build a team of experts

In the event of a crisis, it’s crucial to have a predefined group of colleagues who are in charge of managing the company’s communication channels. While this group don’t necessarily have to be communications or PR professionals, they should have a prior knowledge of the company’s crisis response plans and have a clear understanding of the company’s communication channels.

Often, the clearest way to divide duties is via audience type. For example, one person in leading external communication channels and another managing internal communications channels. This will ensure that each audience has bespoke communications tailored to their needs and delivered in a timely manner. Many communications incident response teams will split their duties further, with individuals managing specific channels such as social media and client/investor contacts.

To coordinate this activity, a senior member of the team should be on hand to take a more strategic overview of the crisis and to act as a liaison with business leaders. This person also acts as a key conduit for information from other areas of the business, ensuring that communications are accurate and consistent across all communication channels.

Outside of the incident response teams, senior leaders need to be trained and on-hand should the business require a public spokesperson.

  1.       Be factual and timely

In the event of a crisis, it can be very easy for businesses to adopt a ‘head in the sand’ approach to reputation management. They aim to avoid the reputational impact of a crisis by pretending it doesn’t exist. While it is important to avoid overcommunication by managing information flow, radio silence can be a major risk in a crisis. If you let others do the communicating instead of taking a lead, you may lose control of the narrative and open the company to misinformation risks.

To combat this, it’s important to take the lead with a short and factual statement. This is best employed when it’s clear that the crisis will have an external impact on the customer experience or could potentially bring the company into disrepute.

This will help to establish the facts with the audience and set the baseline for a regular drumbeat of communications where audiences feel adequately informed throughout the crisis.

  1.       Put people first

Crisis events are not just stressful for business leaders, they can be hugely overwhelming for customers, the public, internal staff, and investors too. Therefore, it’s crucial to ensure that your communications response puts people first. Even if a company can remedy a crisis with minimal disruption, the treatment of customers can still derail the overall response.

An easy way of ensuring that your communications have an empathetic approach is to make sure that you’re including the three Rs in your messaging:

–          Regret: That your audience is being inconvenienced by the crisis

–          Reason: Why the crisis is occurring

–          Remedy: What you’re doing to fix the situation

Remembering the three Rs will provide a key foundation for creating robust crisis communications messaging.

  1.       Win the recovery

Once the crisis is over, it can be tempting to go back to business as usual. However, people often expect support after the crisis, whether that’s rebuilding trust in the company or highlighting the changes that you’ve made to boost the company’s resilience. This can be achieved through the business’ normal communications channels and be built into the regular communications schedule.

Internally, it’s also important to review any pain points that occurred during the crisis and adapt your crisis scenario plans accordingly. This will ensure that in any future crises your company has a stronger response and is able to manage any reputational impacts more efficiently.

While no one can predict when a crisis may arise, by implementing the above tips, you can make a considerable difference to your company’s crisis communications response. Instead of communications being seen as a potential liability, with proactive crisis communications your channels and audiences can be utilised to minimise disruption, protect your reputation, and prepare your business for recovery.

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