Protecting Brands in Times of Crisis
Corporate boards around the world are more concerned than ever with maintaining brand value and protecting a company’s brand purpose. Brand protection is a critical component of this undertaking. In these challenging times, a brand’s value and corporate reputation can easily suffer if a brand has not put pro-active protective measures in place.
As Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it.”
Today’s challenges include the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as increasing political uncertainty – as growing economic nationalism threatens even established markets and supply chains. It’s more important than ever, then, for companies to prepare for crises. This includes having mechanisms in place to handle a live crisis. This involves being able to juggle multiple tasks at once. The ultimate goal for management teams is to limit damage to corporate reputation, while also working to keep supply lines open; retain a motivated workforce; and nurture key business relationships. For many companies, the battle facing them today lies in learning how to make difficult decisions to stay alive – while also protecting their corporate reputation in the process.
Even at the best of times, crises happen. So, how do companies protect their long-term reputations during such times of crisis?
Preparation is key. The basic preparations needed to manage any crisis do not differ. Finsbury’s work for clients in this specialised communications area centers on three key areas: Preparation, Navigation, and Recovery.
To help clients prepare for a crisis – ideally well in advance of any potential issue – we work with them to conduct an assessment of their capabilities during issues and crises. This involves questions such as: How are issues reported within the company? Is there a crisis team representing management, business operations, legal, compliance, and communications divisions? What are the potential vulnerabilities the client may face?
From there, the next step is to develop a crisis playbook, itemizing how decisions are made as crises escalate. This involves specifying team roles and responsibilities, listing key stakeholders and the level of communication they require, and so on. Companies should also consider preparing legal and compliance-checked generic statements – rapid response templates – that can be used in various stages of a crisis situation. Another important requirement is to conduct crisis simulations or training so that responses are honed into muscle memory, and not relegated to a booklet that gathers dust on a shelf.
When clients are faced with a crisis, we partner with internal teams including management, legal, and communications, offering 24/7, on-the-ground support. Key elements of this “Crisis Navigation” phase include developing a clear communications strategy based on the actual crisis, and the brand’s specific business, legal, and reputational goals. Materials for use with stakeholders are refined and developed based on the actual scenario. Often, in times of crisis, the company’s word is not trusted by its various publics. It is therefore important to have trusted, independent third parties available who can provide context for complex issues. Cooperating and working with media is crucial to keep coverage informed and accurate. Supplementing the preparatory training with intensive media training focused on the issue at hand is often an important factor in determining how a company is judged during a crisis. As is monitoring and responding to traditional and social media and new developments in real-time.
There is no guideline as to how long a crisis may run. However, the key elements of the navigation process must be refined and replayed until a line can be drawn under the crisis. The focus then turns to recovery. The first step here is to refine messaging to demonstrate a shift in communications approach post-crisis. It is also important to continue to cultivate third-party influencers to help message absorption by key stakeholders – often understood as “the court of public opinion.” We help clients engage in external reputation-building activities. Working alongside the communications team, relationships are solidified with key reporters to start changing the narrative. At the same time, it is crucial to communicate changes in culture, management, and strategy that may have been required as a result of the crisis, to all employees. And lastly, the crisis playbook is refined based on the lessons learned.
By following this process, companies can ensure that they are seen to be doing the right thing in a crisis, which, no matter how difficult the situation is, will go a long way towards protecting their corporate reputation. The alternative – where reputation is “ruined in five minutes” through an ill-thought out knee-jerk response – can spell the death of a company.