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Are you ready to defend your reputation?

Published on Thursday, 3rd November 2016, contributed by Gioconda Beekman

Most business leaders today recognise and understand that reputation is important. Yet many feel that they could be better prepared to manage reputation issues when they arise.

When a major crisis hits the news, it is often immediately followed by commentary from industry experts on what the affected company should or should not be doing. Hindsight, they say, is a wonderful thing. So instead, I wanted to share some of my top line thoughts on how companies could approach crisis preparedness planning, which I hope you will find useful.

Issues that can potentially damage a company’s reputation can arise at any time and come in many shapes or sizes. They often pop up when you least expect it and usually when you’re busy doing something else. Both scenarios however, can place enormous strain on the individuals whose responsibility it is to stop it from escalating and help resolve it.

When a crisis or issue hits, you need to be able to think ahead and anticipate what may come next. There is no time to step back and think about what to do, figure out who should do what and what to say. Communication at speed is critical. Reacting quickly and being seen to do so can protect the long term reputation of your brand.

For all businesses, the reality of operating in a real-time online environment can be challenging, even more so when you’re not prepared. So how you can make your organisation more resilient against reputational damage?

Step 1 - Plan!

Make crisis and issues preparedness planning part of your ongoing business planning process.

· Spend time thinking about what the reputational risks and issues triggers could be. What are the threats? Where are the vulnerabilities? Think about the environment you operate in, not just your business alone.

 

Many different issues can impact business reputation.

· Use the issues triggers to develop example scenarios and map out how you would respond to them. Think about how you would work together as a team as well as who your key stakeholders are and how you can best identify and contact those who are most closely impacted.

· Create an action plan with clear protocols and processes, including individual and team responsibilities and contact numbers.

Step 2 - Test.

Once a plan has been developed and before it is fully implemented across the organisation, test it. Use one of the scenarios created to run a simulation to see how individual team members respond in real time to make sure the processes work and nothing has been missed. Review and collaborate together to make changes and improvements.

Step 3 - Review.

Having invested in developing a plan, be sure to review it, regularly. Change is constant in today’s business world and those changes need to be considered and reflected on an ongoing basis if the plan is to remain robust. If applicable, apply learnings from a previous crisis or issue.

The above is by no means a complete and extensive list of action items, but highlights a few areas for businesses to consider as part of crisis preparedness planning. I’ve published a framework on my website to help businesses with this process, which I hope you find useful. You can also download a PDF version here.

I hope this is enough to get you thinking. If there is anything I can help with, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

About my crisis expertise:

I am an independent strategic communications consultant with over 15 years’ experience working on corporate reputation issues. In my previous role, I was a certified crisis counsellor at FleishmanHillard and the London lead of its EMEA crisis practice group where I supported a range of projects from crisis preparedness, to responding when a crisis breaks, through to (re)building brand reputation in the long term.

Useful reading:

Deloitte reputation risk survey

Triannual QCA/BDO Small and Mid-Cap Sentiment report