I know. There are many agencies out there that will promise you to no end that it can. And making such a claim to your CEO in the midst of a crisis will probably get you fired.
But, in reality, it cannot. This is good news, not bad. Let me explain.
Seven years ago, I joined a global organization that had developed a respectful brand over forty years. They were in the midst of experiencing their first, significant blow to their brand reputation. And it had nothing to do with their actions.
As in most cases, when crisis hits, chaos tends to ensue within the four walls of the institution affected, often magnifying the crisis beyond its real potential impact.
When your organization’s name appears on BBC and CNN in the same week, and your stakeholders and partners are calling asking for help with reporters’ calls, it can be not only quite frightening but also potentially destructive to your brand.
The question remains, can you manage your reputation and steer your brand ship to shore safely?
The best you can do is to manage the crisis at that particular time, ensuring that everyone is “on message” internally. By everyone, I mean your senior level executives and your staff.
Be aware, it may take two days in a conference room with your senior leaders to develop your message map but once that is done, it is vital that everyone sticks to that script. Position yourself along with a seasoned media relations’ staff member as the single point of contact for all press calls. Remove fear from the equation and realize the media is there to help you disseminate your message – not to make your life a living nightmare.
Take the calls, explain what your organization is and what it does, be transparent and never play fast and loose with the truth. Slowly but surely repeat your message until you see it appear properly in the articles reported.
During a crisis, others are redefining the perception of your organization by the wider public. In other words, they are controlling the message about your organization.
Your goal as the communications expert is to regain control of that message.
How do you do that?
Ensure the organization’s message filters through the noise that your critics and opposition may be making by building relationships and trust with the media.
Disseminate a “message map” – a cue card for your organization’s top three messages with supporting points. Explain why messages are important and when to use them. Encourage staff to keep the map on their office wall or with them to practice using to answer questions from family and friends on “what do you do?” or “what is your organization about?” It is great practice and does build confidence.
Staff may include Board of Directors, volunteers, founding partners who may be retired – anyone who is perceived to represent the organization by the public. Arm your flanks.
Over time, your messages will come out. In our case, they came in the form of cover stories in Time Magazine, The Washington Post and a feature in Edutopia eight months later.
The most important thing to remember is that your opposition’s messages will still be there and may be there for the lifetime of your organization in a protracted campaign against you. Your goal is to minimize the weight and accuracy of those messages while you build the visibility of your organization’s work.
In the end, you cannot manage your organization’s reputation. Reputation for organizations and individuals is determined by the views of others – sometimes due to the actions of others outside of your control. What you can do is alter that view effectively through the clear and continual communication of your organization’s messages.
- Have two or three solid press relationships that you can rely on to transmit/carry messages about your organization.
- Ensure your organization has a “message map” that executive leadership has agreed upon. This map is dynamic and will change over time and should therefore be revisited once a year.
- Have a crisis communications plan that is drilled at least once a year. If you do not have a plan, have a crisis communications consultant with on call availability.
- Remember that you cannot control your organization’s reputation in a crisis but you can control the dissemination of your message.
- Always be transparent, with your leadership, staff and most importantly, the press.