Reputation management, one of the major branches of modern public relations, is at its most important when a crisis strikes. If a brand you're representing comes into bad press, your efforts to burnish the company's image will face a major test. There are really two kinds of actions that will determine how well the organization fares in the crisis: immediate, short-term responses and the long-term programs you've already put in place.
It's easy to see how the two kinds of reputation management interact. Your on-the-spot efforts to protect a brand in crisis will be more effective if you've already put in work to build the company's image, using quiet patches to prepare for possible disaster.
Building a long-term reputation
Reputation management operations that happen well in advance of a crisis carry companies through when times get difficult. Forbes contributor Christopher Skroupa spoke with reputation experts Linda Locke and Beth Russert about what organizations should do to be ready for negative PR, and the reasons why this practice is warranted, rather than excessive.
On a basic level, a good public image gives businesses something to fall back on. According to Locke, this doesn't mean locking into one set of practices permanently. Instead, PR teams should be taking the temperature of the industry and adapting to fit with the times and expectations. The danger of reputation damage is an operational risk like any other, and leaders should be ready to counter it.
Russert stated that an awareness campaign may be necessary to ensure decision-makers are thinking about reputation when they choose a new direction for the business. Instead of keeping the PR function and general management separate, organizations should always be weighing the consequences of their actions.
The best-case scenario for crisis preparation is a symbiotic environment where choices are made with reputation in mind, avoiding some crises at their earliest stages and countering the impact of those that do occur. When businesses turn crisis and reputation management into completely reactive functions, they may find themselves blindsided by negative attention and unable to respond effectively.
Responding directly to low-level issues is one method of reputation maintenance that your PR team should likely be considering. Entrepreneur explained that actively monitoring the discussion around a brand is a worthwhile approach today. Even details as small as customer reviews or social media pushback can contain the seeds of a crisis.
Maintaining a good reputation doesn't necessarily mean a company sitting back and self-promoting. People today are comfortable expressing their concerns directly and publicly, and if brands let these issues fester with no response, all their efforts at image management may ring false.
The same social platforms that let customers speak so loudly also enable brands to get in direct contact. Entrepreneur suggested that PR teams embrace this capability and keep up a consistent stream of interactions. An organization that has a history of communication with its clientele will have an established voice, and that could come in handy during a crisis. Companies that are suspiciously uncommunicative between damage-limiting press statements may find a less than receptive audience.
Putting in legwork
Companies that think of reputation management as just a post-crisis project will always start from a position of weakness. Being prepared means making consistent effort, both in the decision-making process and when interacting with the public. Leaders who doubt the importance of such methods need only to think of how hard a time they could have dealing with an audience that has lost all trust.
As a PR professional hoping to build up a company's reputation, your role involves such proactive tasks as dealing directly with customer concerns and making sure corporate leaders know their own part in maintaining a good public image. If and when a crisis occurs, these early preparations will pay off.