When in the midst of change, be ready for crisis management
Keeping your brand's reputation intact is your primary duty as a public relations professional. Being ready for crises is an essential element of this kind of brand image protection. When an organization implements a major change in the way it operates, it's a great time to refresh your crisis management strategies and make sure you have all the assets and visibility you need should a problem arise during the change.
Organizational transitions, whether in strategy or key personnel, can lead to times of uncertainty. Your company may end up the subject of scrutiny when its long-term plans are still coalescing, and there's no way to tell just how the public will react to a change until the big reveal. The key is to prepare for the worst and display crisis preparation best practices. You know there's a change coming, so you have no excuse if you go in unprepared.
What does a prepared company look like?
A PR department can take a few distinct steps to be fully prepared for a crisis. Following this blueprint before any high-level organizational change is a prudent way of handling the situation. Some of the tactics PR departments have to employ today are very practical and rooted in technology. For instance, Southwest Airlines Chief Communications Officer Linda Rutherford specified to PR News Online that companies need to plan for several potential problem scenarios - and have digital assets ready to go.
If one social media channel seems unaffected while the rest are in crisis mode, it may create a tonal whiplash that makes a company look uncaring or oblivious. Rutherford pointed out that today, organizations can prepare visuals for each of their digital channels. A backup version of a logo could even go up during a serious crisis, to prevent social communications from seeming flippant or too exuberant.
Executives at companies that encounter a crisis should also be ready to take a direct part in a crisis response. Canaan Partners Vice President of Marketing Nairi Hourdajian stated that when executives take responsibility and publicly seek a way forward from problems, the gesture has the potential to defuse a crisis, Fortune reported. The one important stipulation that goes with this concept is that leaders must follow through on their promises.
When change affects the executive level of a company, it's good to ensure the new leaders are well-versed in the crisis management plan. When something goes wrong, the C-suite can be a reassuring presence for stakeholders in the public. If they aren't allowed to take part in the response - or are unprepared - this potential advantage evaporates.
Change as a Strategy
Sometimes, when major organizational changes are the result of a previous image crisis, the PR department has to take a different role, conveying the business's efforts to revise its processes and practices. Forbes contributor Melissa Agnes gave an example of a major company that must take this approach - Wells Fargo. If this bank wants to be the recipient of consumer trust again, it will have to be proactive rather than reactive.
Committing to major shake-ups is a way to ensure that crisis management goes beyond obvious clean-up work and becomes transformative. The public and stakeholders are the two essential groups that will want to see that changes are occurring. PR departments that want to broadcast the process of rebuilding should be sure to cover all channels - and probably have another crisis management plan at the ready, in case things get worse instead of better.
Whatever the impetus is for companies' big changes, going into the process with no crisis management plan at the ready is irresponsible. PR pros have to think in terms of worst-case scenarios and have responses at the ready.