When you think of crisis management what comes to mind? A “war room” atmosphere tackling the fallout of an errant employee tweet? Hurried press releases and plummeting sales?
No brand can completely avoid every challenging moment. But a holistic vision of crisis management can help, and that includes reputation management. As a long-term proactive strategy, reputation management in public relations takes a different approach than reacting to crises as they come.
With a strong foundation of reputation management you can help your brand insulate itself from the impact of crises, proactively addressing them head-on through lived brand values that serve as proof points in your strategic approach.
What Is Reputation Management?
Though they are related, crisis management and reputation management are not interchangeable terms.
“Reputation management is inherently and necessarily proactive and longer term,” says Colleen Dolan, Account Director, Public Relations at GS&F. “You can prepare for issues with crisis management, but by definition it’s short-term, event-based and more reactive.”
The role of PR in crisis management involves a brand’s response to a specific event. Though every brand should have a crisis communications plan, it is not the same as a reputation management strategy. Crisis plans often include preparing a decision tree, identifying people who need to be involved should an issue arise, making a plan for reviewing statements, and listing the types of crises that do or do not necessitate a response as well as the level of threat associated with each crisis.
Furthermore, reputation management is a critical part of crisis management in public relations. As the proactive part of a total strategy, it can help mitigate the effects of unexpected crises with a specific strategy instead of a series of reactive tactics.
“Crisis management and reputation management both require a proactive approachto be successful,” says Laramey Lawson, EVP, Director of Insights and Engagement. “Focusing on strong reputation management often leads to better results and less negative impact during crisis management. It’s a case of the former being improved—or even prevented—by the latter.”
“It’s about building trust and ensuring your brand’s mission and vision are consistently and proactively articulated well,” Dolan says. Reputation management involves supporting your brand with stakeholders in a way that anticipates potential brand stumbling blocks and works year-round to overcome them.
Crisis Issues and Reputation Management Today
The need to establish trust is more important than ever, especially in light of social media. Messages are disseminated quickly and can go haywire within minutes. Sometimes referred to as our culture’s “infodemic,” both accurate and inaccurate information can spread faster than ever.
Ironically, crisis management seems to be the most prevalent approach today. “Brands hesitate to plan proactively from a corporate point of view. With a reputation management strategy, though, they can get out ahead of any issues by creating trust,” Dolan adds. “Brands know they have to be extra vigilant, yet the reactive approach tends to be most prevalent.”
With a strategic plan in place for public relations and reputation management, your brand can be a step ahead of competitors.
Reputation Management Strategy in 3 Steps
What does reputation management look like, practically speaking? It comes down to three steps, according to Dolan—threat, opportunity and proof points.
Identifying Brand Threats
Every brand will have threats to their values, products or stances. Often these threats stem from current issues that involve what the brand offers or overarching industry issues. For example, agriculture companies may face questions about chemical safety. Building companies may need to combat sustainability concerns, and restaurants must confront food safety. However, these threats are not the same as potential crises. For example, the topic of food safety qualifies as a threat for restaurants, but a particular romaine lettuce recall is a crisis a restaurant may experience. Identifying potential threats helps a brand get a sense of what types of crises may arise, but more importantly they provide a roadmap for the type of communication, messages and content to focus on. Whatever the industry, identifying these threats to your brand is the first step toward developing a meaningful, relevant reputation management strategy.
Finding Brand Opportunities
After you’ve identified issues that may negatively affect perceptions of your brand, it’s time to look for opportunities. Often, this involves taking the particular topic that poses a threat and using it as a chance to educate why your brand takes a better approach. For example, for the restaurant looking to tackle food safety, ongoing education about supply chain and the production process could help establish the brand as a leader in the category, always taking steps to ensure their food is as clean and safe as possible. Practically, this could be done through earned media highlights with key stakeholders, an educational social media series, or a special section on the brand’s website. Ultimately, your team’s job is to figure out how to turn threats into opportunities for your brand to shine.
Establishing Proof Points
Giving your brand the best chance to survive—and thrive—amid threats involves establishing proof points. Why should a consumer believe that your brand does something different than what current conversations are saying? Here, you can map out which proof points about your brand are most relevant to each specific threat. For example, a manufacturing company working within an industry where sustainability is a concern may tout a recycling program or remind customers of their supply partners’ and their own commitments to waste reduction.
Next Steps for Your Brand
Reputation management represents a way of thinking when it comes to keeping your brand safe. It’s an approach that can’t necessarily be implemented in a short period of time. However, there are always ways you can get the ball rolling now. Check out these next steps:
- Determine Key Threats: With your team, think through the conversations surrounding your brand and establish a few known threats. With these in mind, you can consider how all future content speaks to and addresses them.
- Map Stakeholders: Determine who is leading the conversation around relevant topics internally and externally. How do these stakeholders currently engage, if at all, with your brand? It’s critical to understand leading voices so you can determine the best approach for potential engagement.
- Set Up Monitoring: Assign teams to monitor conversation around your brand, especially on social media, as well as conversation around related brands and topics. This will offer insight into how your brand can use its voice for awareness.
- Establish a Content Review Process: Make sure your brand has a clear process and established approvers in place for reviewing response statements and other crisis-related content for sensitivity and appropriateness.
Partnering With the Experts
With a reputation management strategy in place, if an issue occurs, “you’ll already have content, messaging and media out in the world that mitigates it,” Dolan says. “Your audience will have a collection of content to refer back to versus one blip of a crisis, and it will all ladder up to the mission and vision of the brand.”
Reputation management is a critical—and major—undertaking for a brand. At GS&F, Dolan and our public relations team can help guide your brand through a strategic approach, ensuring the right voices speak out for your brand on the right topics.
Ready to take steps to safeguard your brand? Let’s talk more.