Our next guest for our online reputation management blog is Peter Roberts, Head of Issues and Crisis Management at Bell Pottinger. A crisis PR specialist, Peter has handled a range of reputational situations for numerous blue-chip clients including insolvency, data loss, pressure group activity, television exposes, terrorist activity, kidnapping and employee fatalities. Prior to leading Bell Pottinger’s Crisis Practice, Peter was deputy Head of the Crisis Practice at Hill & Knowlton in London, and former Head of Communications for BBC News.
What is crisis communications?
The ability to ensure an organization, or individual is behaving and communicating appropriately with all stakeholders at a critical point in time.
What are the biggest mistakes you see people and companies make when dealing with the media?
Being overly cooperative. This may sound rather counter-intuitive as we need to forge good relationships with the media, but so often, company spokespeople tend to forget they are there to deliver their own story as opposed to helping the media develop theirs.
Another mistake is responding to questions with pre-agreed answers, as opposed to listening and replying with something more relevant.
How important is social media to your reputation management strategy?
Extremely. The days of the media being the sole scrutinizers of your corporate reputation are long gone. The digital explosion has, rightly, empowered a far wider range of constituents; principally consumers, and subsequently it’s vital that organizations embrace those platforms that give opportunity to both listen and engage with such groups. Relatedly, consider the effectiveness of NGOs and pressure groups in this space; notably, Greenpeace and their Nestle campaign, and the impact of the likes of UK Uncut to mobilize supporters at short notice.
What is the first thing a company should do when there is a PR disaster?
Be seen and heard. An organization won’t have the facts to hand, but it’s vital that they are visible from the outset. The Sony Playstation hacking episode last year was a case in point.
How can CEOs help build and repair corporate reputation?
In building a reputation, the CEO needs to appreciate that it may be devised at the top, but it will only flourish with the involvement and endorsement of the whole workforce. The challenge for any boss is how best to cultivate the staff to achieve a sense of brand ownership across the business. As for reparation, distinct reputational issues will, largely, be tempered if the building process has been achieved. However, there will be a need for leadership at such times and consequently, the CEO has to recognize the impact of an answerable and transformative organization in supporting the rebuild campaign.
What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?
The bulk of employees won’t be directly involved in the crisis, so it’s vital that they continue to demonstrate professionalism in their aspect of the business. This is vital with those staff members who have direct contact with consumers and/or members of the general public, who by their roles and responsibilities will be the most resonant guardians of the brand for many. After the crisis, public interest will, albeit to a lesser extent, still be leveled at the organization, so it’s important that employees continue to be mindful of how they and the organization will be perceived and to behave accordingly.
What can companies do to better prepare for a public relations crisis?
Initially, move from that mindset which says it won’t happen to us, to one that says it could and it may be at any moment. Many organizations don’t let themselves think in such terms as it supposedly belies a sense of inferiority and weakness; whereas, in fact, such an approach can only strengthen the business. Recognizing the threats and inherent flaws in the company will flush out the processes required to make it stronger, including the regular testing of systems and the training of people.