Communications professionals have been navigating the challenges associated with the ever-shrinking news cycle for decades now, but today’s social sharing environment has created a dramatic increase in the intensity and speed of how news can penetrate the public psyche.  Like a canary in a coal mine, the recent trend in high profile crises to wreak devastating havoc on well-established personal and brand reputations – within a matter of days – is a signal too perilous to ignore.   For organizations and their leaders, the current climate should serve as a reminder that reputational protection needs to be a core objective of any communications program.

Following are 4 questions organizations should be asking as they elevate reputation management to a core competency of their communications program:

  1.  What is the reputational objective during a crisis?

While the movies may have glamorized crisis communications, Hollywood’s glaring lights have also mischaracterized this important communications function.  In reality, the role is much more akin to an ER than a dramatic thriller.  The objective, simply put, should be to “stop the bleeding,” preserving as much goodwill as possible.  Communicators aren’t magicians, and success will be measured in degrees.  Reputations shouldn’t be expected to improve during times of crisis— just stabilized for subsequent rehabilitation.

  1. Does your current communications team have experienced crisis managers?

The old adage, “it’s never too late,” may have wide application, but not to communicating when brand reputation is at risk.  The speed at which reputational damage can be inflicted today is alarming, even for experienced crisis managers.  Identifying, interviewing and hiring an expert in the throes of an event is likely to do little to alter the news trajectory. How a reputational issue is handled in the early hours will disproportionately impact how much damage is ultimately inflicted.

  1. Which of your brand’s attributes are most sacred?

In order to keep a communications program on track, it’s necessary to differentiate between crisis and drama.  Determining the most important attributes that are core to an organization’s identity or brand will provide a framework for distinguishing matters that should receive heightened care, and allow a communications program to operate more efficiently while remaining attuned to red flags.

  1. How does your communications program safeguard the organization’s integrity?

It has been said that integrity can never be taken; only given away.  While compliance officers are tasked with ensuring an organization remains on the right side of applicable rules and regulations, today’s communications professionals have a complementary role in safeguarding an organization’s values, honesty and credibility.  Maintaining organizational integrity requires thoughtfully aligning both internal and external communication efforts to foster a reputation-focused culture.  By recognizing that reputations are built from the inside out, an organization’s communications team is uniquely positioned to create a reputation worthy of unyielding protection.

The Latin writer Publilius Syrus’ observation, “A good reputation is more valuable than money,” has not only withstood the test of time, but is arguably even more relevant today.   It also serves as a nice reminder that organizations should ensure reputation management is a critical component of any communications program.

-Mike Riley

Photo via Flickr account David Armano