By Erin Sanders
Senior Communications Advisor with NP Strategy
When a crisis hits your organization – and it will – it’s important to have a solid crisis management plan in place to mitigate the damage and bring closure. But one of the crucial factors that will determine the extent of the damage and timeline of the crisis is brand reputation. What do people, whether they’re the public, customers, stockholders or your own employees, believe about your organization before the crisis?
Generally, a favorable brand reputation means consumers like your company, and feel good about purchasing your goods or services. But in today’s information-driven society, brand reputation has grown more complex. People want to know what your company stands for, how you treat your employees and customers, whether you’re hurting or helping the planet, and so forth. Trust, credibility, respect, reliability, loyalty, and humility are just some of the measures that stakeholders take in judging your company.
The Perception of Good vs. Bad
If your organization experienced a crisis today, would your stakeholders be more likely to believe that: A) Yours is a good company to which something bad has happened? Or B) Yours is a bad company that got what it deserved? Is this a single bad act, or proof of something more insidious? The answers to these questions can mean the difference between a small dent in reputation and a full-blown, CEO-ousting, financially-devastating, employee-fleeing crisis.
Obviously, the answers may be influenced by the nature of crisis and your response to the situation – both in communications and in actions. However, between 24-hour news cycles and social media, crises can occur suddenly and escalate swiftly. The “court of public opinion” often operates without due process, quickly trying and convicting its victims. What they know or believe about you before the crisis can make or break your organization – and no carefully crafted words or too-little-too-late acts of contrition will paper over your alleged crimes.
Prepare Your Bank of Goodwill
Make sure your company’s brand reputation is in order BEFORE the crisis hits. Sufficiently stock your “bank of goodwill” for when you need to make a withdrawal. Mary Schmich described it well in her Chicago-Tribune article when she wrote, “goodwill is the currency that keeps a company’s reputation afloat in the midst of crisis.” Goodwill comes from doing the right things consistently over time, and letting your stakeholders know your story in the right way, at the right time.
Customers who know and respect your company will challenge misinformation or give you another chance after a misstep. Loyal employees will genuinely and vigorously defend the organization when it’s under attack. An engaged public may accept your apology and offer forgiveness or absolution. Just as in their personal lives, people rely on the relationship they have with you to guide how they respond to your crisis.
Shape Your Own Destiny
Some companies prefer to “fly under the radar” for various reasons, or believe they don’t have the right resources to tell their story. The risk is that if you’re not shaping your reputation, at some point, someone will do it for you … and usually not in the way you’d like. A crisis without a solid brand reputation behind it – and an empty bank of goodwill – can cost your company a fortune.
Erin Sanders is a Senior Communications Advisor with NP Strategy with more than 20 years of experience in crisis management and strategic communications. Erin has advised Fortune 500 and other companies across numerous industries in challenging situations from bankruptcy and mergers to cybercrime and #MeToo claims. Erin also has created award-winning and highly successful communications programs for clients who are not in crisis…yet. If you’d like assistance in performing a risk assessment and preparing your organization for a crisis (or to avoid one), email Erin at [email protected].