Five tips for reputation and crisis management in the digital world

Portrait of Marcus Gault

Marcus Gault

General Manager, UK & Ireland


crisis managment

In business, reputation is everything. And in today’s hyper-connected world where competing opinions and high customer expectations reign supreme, brands need to know how to both weather the storm of a public relations crisis, as well as how to potentially use it to their advantage.

Crises are not inevitable but PR needs to prepare as if they are. The virality and amplification power of today’s media means that even the most innocuous comment can be mis-interpreted and blow up, threatening to undermine a reputation which has taken many years to build. No business should consider itself immune to bad press. No matter how large or how much of a household name a brand is, a crisis can be make or break.

But whilst something as simple as an ill-considered gesture by an influencer, or an unsavoury brand partnership can impact a brand’s reputation, high profile cases such as “the great KFC chicken shortage” are a testament to the importance of owning the narrative. Whilst a crisis may seem like a daunting prospect, if handled well it can also bring short and long term benefits to a brand’s performance and reputation.

1. Establish a plan

Empower your communications team to react quickly and nimbly by having a framework in place for handling a media crisis. In other words, establish a plan and assign team members to manage it.

Crises are by nature unpredictable, so a crisis management plan must be developed, practised, and regularly updated to ensure that you can respond to all unforeseen issues. Before you can take the first step in crisis management planning, it’s important to choose a team of leaders to collaborate with during the crisis planning process. This team should include the people who will take action during a crisis. Next, you’ll need to assess the various risks your company could face, and determine the potential business impact of these risks. Finally, it’s time to plan the response and determine what actions your team would need to take to respond to the threat if it does happen.


2. Have the right tools in place to help 

In today’s media landscape a crisis can break and be misconstrued on social media in a matter of minutes, whilst being viewed by millions of people before a brand is even aware of the issue themselves. The speed and unpredictability surrounding crises means that being prepared for them and detecting them early is more important than ever before.

Since prevention is the best cure, taking advantage of a media monitoring service can help stop an issue from escalating into a crisis. Monitoring tools can help brands spot mentions and manage a potential threat before it has the chance to do any serious damage – and even turn it into a positive brand building exercise. Not only does this help make a crisis more manageable, it also offers valuable insight which can be used to better prepare for future crises.

3. Move fast

In today’s digital age, news travels fast. If you don’t shape the narrative, someone else will do it for you. Even if all the facts have not yet come to light, it’s important to acknowledge the crisis; this can be a statement that clearly states that the matter is being taken seriously and is under investigation.

4. Accept responsibility

It’s simple: regardless of whether an issue is real or is your fault, organisations need to recognise and acknowledge that there is a problem. While you may be in the right, the only jury that matters during a crisis is public opinion. Trying to remove negative comments can make you appear as though you are trying to cover up a situation, or worse, that you don’t care about your customers. It’s critical to be transparent and honest about any issues you are facing, apologise to anyone affected, and to articulate what will be done to correct the situation.

5. Set up channels of communication and be consistent

Regardless of the nature of the crisis, it is vital that you set up channels of communication – whether through a hotline or on your social media feed – where customers can ask questions and you can provide important information and regular updates.

As part of this, it’s important to ensure that your messaging, and its delivery, is consistent. Businesses should put forward the same spokesperson for all enquiries – whether that’s the CEO or another senior executive – and ensure they convey a sense of calm, empathy and personal connection to your customers.

Ultimately, everybody makes mistakes. Having a solid plan in place will not only help preserve your company’s reputation, but confirm yet again that you are a business that cares about its customers and are willing to go the extra mile to make them happy and live up to your reputation. Now is the moment to build for the future and prepare for any eventuality.

For more information on our Media Response Desk, click here.