Today’s interview on the Online Reputation Management blog, is with Robert J. Fisher, a veteran public relations executive, counselor and consultant with over four decades of experience in the fields of public relations, marketing, communications and advertising. Robert is President of Fisher & Associates, Inc. (F&A), a Los Angeles area-based public relations and communications firm which has served a broad range of businesses and industries on local, national and international levels for more than three decades. He has extensive experience in crisis communications having represented clients both throughout the U.S. and internationally who were in crisis situations. He is also a recognized expert in this field by the media who he has long served as an expert media information source and analyst.
What is crisis communications?
Crisis Communications is the response that is made to a negative situation that has arisen that threatens to in some way harm an entity (e.g. business, industry, product, person, organization) either by potentially impacting on its livelihood and/or severely damaging its image, reputation, brand or the good will or trust which it has with its primary target audiences. The response can take many forms but involves the dissemination of information and the influencing of opinion to mitigate the potential harm to the affected entity. The response can be a short term effort or an ongoing one depending on the length of the crisis. The type and nature of the response will depend on the strategy that has been formulated for handing the situation. A critical element in crisis situations is timing with an emphasis on moving rapidly.
How important is social media to your reputation management strategy?
Social media is obviously a very important component of a communications program, particularly in the ability to move information out quickly. However, there is an inherent danger with it because of this in that it lends itself to the “shoot from the hip” danger of acting before thinking. There is a danger here of the “cart before the horse.” It is an important “tool” but he has to be used in concert with all the other forms of communicating messages.
What is the first thing a company should do when there is a PR disaster?
If the company has an existing Crisis Communications Plan prepared for such an emergency situation, then reviewing, adjusting, refining and implementing the plan is the proper action. Should one not exist (as would be probable in most cases), the following actions are critical:
- Assemble as much information on the situation as quickly as possible from reliable, informed sources and verify the information.
- Make a determination of what format would be used to issue the first comments about the situation depending on the key target audiences (e.g. employees, media, investors, customers, creditors, suppliers, others in industry).
- Determine who will issue this information.
- When and where it will be issued.
There is a fine line, in terms of importance, between acting too quickly (before prepared) or too slowly (refining your actions to the finite degree) when faced with a situation where every minute counts in making sure accurate information is out there and false impressions or harmful perceptions are being formed.
How can CEOs help build and repair corporate reputation?
There is a wise old adage that says “it takes years to build a reputation and can take only seconds to destroy it.” As it is also said that the “buck stops at the top,” it is incumbent on the CEO to
take a leadership role both before a crisis occurs and once it occurs. As “an ounce of prevention is better that a pound of cure,” it starts with the CEO running the company like a “clean ship.”
If a crisis occurs despite having a well operated company, there will be a better base or foundation to work from to address the problem. Some contingency planning for a crisis would be a good start. Having the structure in place to handle one would be another wise move. As to repairing a corporation reputation once it has been damaged, the CEO must be the focal point both in words and deeds. Being prepared will help, having a crisis response structure will help – and seeking good advice in counsel from trained experts in crisis management might also be prudent once the crisis arises.
What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?
Every employee is a representative of its company to the outside world. As people outside of the company may consider they have “inside information,” in a crisis situation their words, actions and opinions may have consequences – good or bad. During a crisis, unless asked to do so, they should not comment outside the workplace unless asked to do so by the company. They may not have complete or accurate information on the subject and may be prone to speculate which is bad. (Note: Depending on the situation, it might be smart for the entity to fully inform their employees and utilize them to disseminate information into the community.) After the crisis, what they should or should not do or say would be directly related to how the crisis turned out. Again, direction from the company would be very helpful and prudent.
What can companies do to better prepare for a public relations crisis?
Of the many actions a company can take to prepare for a crisis situation, the two most important are:
- Set up an infrastructure to handle a crisis if and one it comes. This would include:
- Identify who would be the spokesperson(s) for the company.
- Identify key target audiences and determine who would speak to each and how the message would be delivered.
- Set up system to collect and dissemination information internally.
- Prepare a list of key people in company and their emergency contact information.
- Identify place to gather when crisis happens and determine who will be involved and what responsibilities they will have.
- Determine all possible types of crisis situations that could possibly occur related to the business and prepare a series of contingency plans (or mini-crisis programs) that could be in place and implemented (with some revision) quickly.The more proactive, advance preparation, the more smoothly and quickly the crisis can be addressed when it occurs.