Most people understand the concept of crisis communications: something awful happens at a company – say the CEO is accused of sexual harassment – and a small army of PR pros descend to see if they can do some damage control.
What fewer people understand is how a company can build a culture and reputation strong enough to weather a violent public relations storm. This is important, because even the best PR folks can’t save a company whose reputation was “swinging in the wind” before the crisis occurred.
Here are some basic steps you can take to strengthen your firm’s reputation:
- Start with your employees. Working to foster a culture of respect and transparency at your organization will make employees less likely to reach out via social media or to a journalist to air any potential grievances.
- Do good work in your community. One of our clients, Pinnacol Assurance, has a great program designed to get their employees active in their community. Go ahead and use their good ideas. They’ll be flattered, and their good works will penetrate even deeper into the world.
- Survey your clients, employees and partners to assess your reputation with them and address the deficits you discover. We like Survey Monkey’s templates that can help you structure a quick and easy survey. But, just as important as gathering the data, is following through and making changes based on what the respondents say.
- Load your social media sites with praise for your firm. A good way to do this is ask partner businesses for positive reviews, in exchange for your positive review for their operation. Evolution works with an online reputation management contractor that supports our customers as they seek to gain positive online reviews via sites like Yelp.
It’s also helpful to consider how large, national firms with good reputations built all of that good will. Perhaps most cited for their work in this regard is Southwest Airlines. The company has a solid reputation, as well as a communications team that prepares alternatives when a crisis emerges and their reputation is on the line. Many of the themes woven through this piece can be implemented effectively before a crisis hits. For example, responding quickly and transparently to client concerns, and owning when your organization has screwed up so that you can move on.
Efforts to survive a PR storm start long before the storm hits, just as engineers know they have to prepare for the worst elements of weather. As the Carolinas struggle to cope with the damage wrought by Hurricane Florence, I’m certain the structures designed with hurricanes in mind will fare best.