A tornado or hurricane will probably not level your facilities. You may never encounter a product recall or a lawsuit that threatens your operations. Despite what we often see in the news, most employees, managers and owners act responsibly and will never operate in ways that truly harm your brand or position in the marketplace.
So is your corporate reputation really something that needs “managing?”
Strengthening your brand while surrounding it with the armor of a reputation management strategy will bolster your image while protecting you through crises, during unsettled times in your industry and even when the unthinkable happens, like COVID-19.
Follow these simple steps to build what we call “reputational capital,” a documented bank of evidence and goodwill with a structure to communicate both. This will mitigate the impact of bad events that would otherwise unfairly tarnish perceptions of your products and services, cast doubt on your firm, hurt sales and even hinder your ability to hire:
SCENARIO PLANNING – put on your nasty hat and attack yourself.
Where is your organization most vulnerable? Food safety? Animal welfare? Environmental concerns? A data breach? You can probably identify at least 75% of the issues that might cause a problem using these strategies:
- Workshop “gotcha” scenarios with a broad-based team including outsiders.
- Rank most to least dangerous and assess your exposure—financial, legal, reputation.
- Conduct an external vulnerability audit and fix where possible.
- Conduct issue-specific message training workshops.
RALLY THE TROOPS – start with the your most important audience: employees.
In times of calm or crisis, employees are often the last to know or are the ones left with only partial information. They are your ambassadors. Communicate with them first, often and thoroughly.
- Key managers should be familiar with your crisis communication plan as well as the strategies listed above. A yearly refresher is a good idea.
- Determine who will communicate with whom and how, realizing crisis often happens outside of normal work hours.
- Be accurate and thorough while also encouraging—and answering—employee questions.
CORE MESSAGING – carefully chosen words create organizational bedrock.
Beyond your basic sales or elevator pitch, what are fundamental message points for your organization?
- Why do you exist—what is your big driver beyond product features and benefits?
- What do you stand for within your industry and community as a business in general?
- In succinct fashion, can you explain how you are materially different from competitors?
SHARING, NOT BRAGGING – telling more than your sales story.
Every organization should have a crisis communication plan that is current and ready to implement. The act of creating one often causes vulnerabilities to surface that can then be addressed. A great way to start protecting your brand is to use the tips above.
Once prepared, you can incorporate the positives into your website, the occasional news release and use core messages with your employees, customers and supply chain.
FAQ – be ready with critical answers focused on vital audiences.
- Segment your audiences with FAQs tailored to each
- Based on your scenarios above, what would a reporter ask, and how would you answer?
- Be succinct but detailed regarding all aspects of your operations, supply chain or influencer groups, community, employees and industry.
- Weave in your core messaging—since you will never be asked questions for all the answers, repeat key points in different sections.
- Your answers also allow you to highlight the many good things you do.
- Vet all of this with experts, including legal.