A number of companies wait until they have a media crisis to turn to public relations. The cat is already out of the bag and the public relations consultant brought in to clean up the mess has to play catch-up to get the company back on track toward rebuilding the brand’s reputation. Like an individual, a company’s good name and reputation is priceless and needs to be closely monitored and well guarded against reputational threats. Here are 10 public relations tactics to help manage your reputation.
1. Communications programs for internal audiences
I am a great promoter of starting from the inside out. Employees are the brand ambassadors they eat, sleep and breathe the company. It is their faces that people identify with, and the company is known by who they are and how they project themselves. The staff’s mirror image of the company will be the one reflected in the community. Unhappy, dissatisfied employees will communicate to stakeholders an organization that is dysfunctional. Employees have communications need for information and internal interaction, and these should be planned.
2. A Corporate Social Responsibility Program
Know your neighbours and interact with them. According to Julia Bonner and Adam Friedman of New York University, while reputation was a primary motivator for companies to engage in CSR programs, “competitive positioning ranked closely behind indicating that companies now look at CSR as a way to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.”
3. A Website
The first place everyone looks these days for information on any company or subject is the Internet. A well designed and laid out website communicates a lot about a company. For small businesses, the Internet is a great equalizer as it shows off your company as well as any big business.
4. Social Media Interface
Social Media is relatively inexpensive, and it gives you a ready channel to hear from your customers and respond to their needs in real time. Social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube are also great for small budget organizations and Non-Profits as they allow for inexpensive and direct target marketing for your promotions.
5. A written social media policy
A social media policy is a must for every organization. Set boundaries beforehand for employees so that they would be no major fallouts. Yahoo reported on AP’s blunder in implementing its social media policy. AP told its staff something which is transferable to every organization and employees should be mindful of their actions on social media - “Everyone who works for AP must be mindful that opinions he or she expresses may damage the AP's reputation as an unbiased source of news. AP employees must refrain from declaring their views on contentious public issues in any public forum and must not take part in demonstrations in support of causes or movements. This includes liking and following pages and groups that are associated with these causes or movements.”
6. A Crisis Communications Plan
Companies tend to create a crisis communications plan after a crisis has happened. The time to do a crisis plan is however beforehand to mitigate fallout. Part of the exercise of developing a plan should be devoted to developing different types of scenarios that could disrupt the normal course of business. Persons usually plan for the normal crisis like a natural disaster or accidents in the workplace, however, B.J. Talley who experienced a piracy incident while working for Maersk Shipping Line, the incident that inspired the movie Captain Phillips, suggests that you should also be ready to respond to the once in a century crisis because they are the ones that test the organization’s metal. Read the story Navigating the High Seas: What Somali Pirates Taught Me About Crisis Communication for his tips on crisis management.
7. A trained spokesperson
While you are developing a crisis plan, you should also identify a spokesperson for the company. This person does not have to be the CEO; it could be an expert within the organization. Having trained spokespersons allows the organization to be “camera ready” for when the media comes calling. The company could also be proactive and have this person contribute stories to industry publications and set themselves up as subject matter experts this also helps to build the profile of the company as an industry leader.8. A media contact list
How would you like to receive mail addressed to you as CEO with someone else’s name on it? We do it all the time to the media. We send releases to news editors who have long since retired or moved on. You should always have an updated media list, and more importantly you should know the journalists who write about your industry.9. Daily Monitoring of Reputation
There are a number of monitoring tools available. A system should be in place to monitor what is being said about the organization both in traditional and new media.
10. A qualified public relations consultant
Of course engaging a strategist like myself is important in effectively maintaining the reputation of any organization. Sean Williams puts it bluntly with his statement “Internal Communications (IC) is seen, particularly by more quantitative executive managers as “nice to have,” a nonessential and nonstrategic department. Getting past these preconceptions is very hard work. IC pros often reinforce these misconceptions by, well, being nonstrategic, non quantitative, and generally ignorant.” A strategic public relations consultant would help the internal team move from delivering just outputs to outtakes and outcomes that demonstrate return on investment. Measurement is key to any strategy’s success.