Are You Protecting Your Reputation With A Plan?

Neglecting reputation can be costly

With polls showing that global executives attribute a whopping 63% of their company’s market value to its overall reputation, it seems most in the know would agree reputation is a tremendously valuable resource. Why, then, is it so common to encounter major brands with national reputations…and no reputation management planning to speak of?

In my experience, the most common answer from these otherwise well-structured and firmly established organizations is, “We haven’t needed it yet!”. This is never good news. The bright side for you is you’re (hopefully) reading this before you face a reputation crisis of your own, so don’t make the same mistake! As someone who’s seen it first-hand many times, I’ll guarantee those with prior planning and preparedness spend less money, lose less customers, generate less negative media coverage, and generally get back to ‘business as usual’ much more quickly than those without.

“Reputation is any organization’s most valuable asset, therefore crisis management should be looked at as a critical form of asset protection. Failure of organizations to anticipate and prevent potential crises is a rampant crisis of its own.” — Jonathan Bernstein

What’s putting reputations at risk

Allow me to expand a bit…

While most organizations we speak with have some level of emergency planning – basic natural disaster response plans, for example – far fewer are prepared to engage in the communications and operational maneuvering that accompanies a serious threat to reputation. In other words, actively managing their reputation and protecting that 63% of market value from harm! The piece most often missed is the communications planning of it all – knowing before trouble rears up to bite us in the rear exactly how we’ll communicate (internally and externally!), what type of messaging we’ll use, and who is best suited to deliver it.

Compounding the issues present without a plan are the sheer workload and stress level that accompanies crisis response without preparation in place. Imagine your day-to-day at its most stressful (if you can feel those teeth getting ready to grind you’re probably there)…now add an extra several hours of work at either end in meetings with consultants, lawyers, and angry stakeholders, minimal sleep, and a constantly overflowing inbox. Oh, and don’t forget about home life too. The human brain can only manage so much, which is why planning ahead for things like crisis and reputation management are critical to success. The volume of work is lower, you’re doing the right work, team-wide confidence is higher — it’s not hard to see why those with plans fare better!

Is my plan complete? Wait…do we even have a plan?

So, where do you start? At its most basic, every crisis or reputation management plan is based on a list of the worst possible situations you can think of that your brand – or those connected to your brand – might land in. For most this ranges from supply line disruption to executive misbehavior being exposed on Twitter. In other words, there’s a lot!! Once you have a list established, though, you’ll start to see categories emerge, and those are what we plan for. If you’ve never sat down and truly considered how your reputation could be negatively impacted it’s an eye-opening exercise, and often doing this as a group with your leadership team is enough motivation to get everyone on board with getting a little more prepared.

Most good plans will have a few parts in common. For example, all Bernstein Crisis Management plans include:

Response procedures. Step-by-step procedures for response for any category of situation for which an organization wishes to be prepared.

Crisis and reputation-related policies. For example, who is an authorized spokesperson? What is required in terms of information security? What are employees allowed to share on social media?

Roles and response protocols for team members. Who does what in a crisis, and when should they be informed/brought in?

Communications protocols. How and where will we talk to our stakeholders, both internal and external, during a crisis?

Spokesperson resources. What should spokespeople be doing from minute one of a crisis event?

Key messaging for internal and external audiences. A framework and fill-in-the-blank messaging to allow almost-instant response to breaking issues.

Company-specific scenario planning. Special considerations for your brand specifically.

Proactive reputation planning. How can you actively build a cushion of goodwill to protect your reputation when it comes under attack?

If you’re looking for more info on what goes into the crisis and reputation management planning process, visit our guide to crisis management and crisis management plans.

Facts, figures, and figuring it out

Your reputation isn’t only valuable when it comes to bringing in new business, either. Nearly 70% of job seekers report they would reject a job offered by a company with a bad reputation, even while otherwise unemployed. I’d call not being able to access the vast majority of the available workforce as a crisis, wouldn’t you?

Oh, and we haven’t even touched online reputation yet either! Some 78% of consumers knowingly base their purchase decisions on social media posts and 65% of consumers trust online search engines the most when conducting research on a business. That means your brand becoming the focus of the day’s internet outrage crew – deserved or not! – can massively influence whether folks spend their money with you, or with the competition. Negative search results, which any crisis of reputation will generate, aren’t a quick-fix issue either. Land yourself a headline on NYTimes.com and you’re easily into six figures to get that search result pushed down to page two, if it’s possible at all. Even more local media will often show up at the top of searches, and don’t forget that search engines are now starting include social media posts in their results as well.

Speaking of media outlets, let’s test your reporter-readiness right now! Do you know what you would do if a reporter called today? What should you say? What info do you need to get on that first call? What should you not say? Who do they get redirected to? If you don’t 100% know the answer to all of these questions, you likely either don’t have a crisis and reputation management plan at all, or it’s gathering dust on on a shelf somewhere.

I could throw what we fondly call, “Oh s#%t” questions (because that’s what comes out of people’s mouths when we start to go down the list in private meetings), at you all day, but if you’ve made it this far I think it’s safe to assume you’re catchin’ my drift. An emergency plan alone does not prepare one for today’s outrage outbursts or misbehavior meltdowns, and if you truly believe you can react on the fly, appropriately and quickly enough to match the breakneck pace of reporting and social media today without the aid of a proper crisis and reputation management plan, then I have some top-notch oceanfront property in Arizona you just have to see.

Erik Bernstein
erik@bernsteincrisismanagement.com