There's no doubt about it — inadequate crisis management can damage an organization's reputation, particularly in the hyper-fueled digital environment that exists today. Organizations must be prepared to respond to crises through official communication channels, but must also ensure that employees are armed with the messages and methods to lend their voices to the conversation. That's where HR comes in. A partnership between the two functions can help to cover all bases — internal and external.
Bill Pinkel, account director at Reputation Management, a New York-based firm that works with organizations to help them protect and restore their brand reputation, says negative content and sentiment can easily snowball, so it's important for businesses to be proactive. "Websites like Glassdoor integrate internal morale in a public forum, exposing it to clients and customers," Pinkel says. This illustrates the importance of collaboration between HR and PR around brand management. "Not only can this obviously impact recruiting, but negative reviews on such sites could also deter clients or customers from working with an organization," Pinkel says.
Expectations and Processes
When it comes to taking a proactive stance to manage brand reputation, organizations should leave nothing to chance. "A key component of your crisis response plan has to be your communication strategy," says Tracy Williams, CEO and president of Olmstead Williams Communications, a PR firm based in Los Angeles. That means the following:
- Have a crisis response team in place before you ever need to use it — know who will issue statements ahead of time
- Share information with the entire firm, verbally and through written materials — empowering employees with knowledge is an important best practice
- Identify all stakeholders and quickly develop communications strategy for each
- Maintain a focus on compassion, honesty and transparency
- Work toward a solution as quickly and as openly as possible — if necessary, schedule a time to issue a follow-up statement if information is not readily available
- Break your own bad news — doing so can be powerful and help establish trust and confidence from stakeholders
HR and PR teams and other corporate leaders can partner to ensure these steps are followed and that a culture of openness and transparency is in place. Formal plans can also ensure that everyone in the organization understands expectations and knows what to do and who to contact in the event of a crisis.
"Every organization should have a crisis communications plan in place, which should include assignments for internal information gathering and message delivery," says Tim O'Brien, founder of O'Brien Communications in Pittsburgh. "Included in this plan should be procedures and processes for collecting and verifying information, and then making decisions on how to, and when to, communicate — and to whom." Ongoing review and discussion can help ensure preparedness for whatever issues might emerge.
Preparing for Potential Crises
While many businesses conduct simulations or drills to practice response to various potential crisis situations, O'Brien says it can be overwhelming to conduct crisis simulations for every possible crisis scenario. Instead, he recommends regular meetings to review crisis plans and focus on the scenarios that might be most likely. These meetings might include HR, labor relations and outside counsel in addition to PR representatives.
It's impossible to prepare for every potential crisis that might strike your organization, or every potential communication issue that will emerge. Fortunately, though, it's possible to prepare for how you will respond and to forge partnerships between HR, PR and others to ensure those responses will be well-coordinated and supportive of your organization's brand.
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