Brian Walsh – Managing Director, Bastion Reputation Management

Risk management is a highly defined process and is seen by senior leaders as a key part of an organisation’s operations and governance. It is vital to the success of an organisation and Boards spend an enormous amount of time reviewing processes to ensure that risk is being identified and appropriately dealt with.

Reputation management? Not so much. Or not so much until an organisation is knee-deep in a reputational crisis. In benign times it rarely features on the Board’s agenda in the same way as risk management does. But it should.

Many organisations we have supported have a defined operational crisis management plan but few have had a clear and practised crisis communications plan for when a major reputational issue strikes. It’s not just about dealing with the operational event but communicating the actions effectively, openly and honestly.

It’s also interesting that organisations can see value in investing in communications strategies that directly sell a product or service but less value in developing and executing a corporate communications strategy that sells the values of the organisation making the products or services.

No matter what is happening you need to continue to remind and reinforce to people that they were right in placing their trust in your organisation in the first place – not just trust in the product or service, but in you. When there is a crisis event, that trust and relationship is important in getting through in good shape.

It is and should be a key part of risk management. That is why organisations and senior leaders should focus on quality and reputation and the steps they need to take to ensure they are working on both 365 days a year.

The reality is that reputation management and building a strong story of an organisation that does the right thing by its employees, customers or clients, regulators, suppliers community and other stakeholders is the best defence for an organisation suddenly in the midst of a media crisis.

What you do the other 364 days of the year matters a lot on the one day a year when trouble strikes for whatever reason.

Employees, customers and the wider community want to know that the values of the organisation are not just some pretty marketing words that appear on the website but that the values are real and underpin every decision, every day. Words are useless if they don’t reflect actions.

No matter what processes you have in place, someone will make a mistake, make a decision or do or say something that is out of line with those values or has the potential to harm the reputation of an individual, an organisation or both.

We are all human. We all make mistakes. As a young reporter, I once breathlessly wrote that a “headless body was found face down.” My mates found it hilarious. My editor not so much.

The Bastion Reputation Management trademark is “We help you be the best on your best day and the best you can be on your worst day.”

We get to see organisations and the way they operate in good times and in bad and there is no doubt that those who “walk” reputation management and don’t just talk it move through any crisis event quicker and easier than those who have done nothing.

What is also clear is that reputations are built on repeat efforts. They are also damaged on repeat efforts.

Every action. Every decision helps to build a reputation. Every action, every decision, no matter how small can help to diminish it.

It means that the responsibility of reputation is shared across an organisation. If there are problems in one division or one site or one team, it reflects on all.

Internally companies may be split into divisions or units or geographic areas of responsibility but in most cases they share one brand. one name, one share price, one reputation.

An issue for one is an issue for all.

Mistakes happen. It is how we deal with it that makes a difference. Did they do the right thing? What did they do to prevent an event? What did they do when it happened? Did they react with empathy and care? What are they doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

So what can organisations do?

Have a strategy in place to manage your reputation in good times and bad and engage your key partners to reinforce why they should trust you to do the right thing.

Consider the reputation implications of all of your operational risks and don’t just consider a reputation issue to be isolated to media or customers – something considered low risk operationally and BAU may well be perceived differently from a reputation perspective. The two must be considered in tandem.

Be prepared. You don’t get to choose the timing of a crisis but you do get to choose how you react. Have a plan for how you can communicate directly with all the people who are important to you – staff, families, customers, clients, regulators, local politicians, media and your communities.

Understand it is not the words you communicate but the actions that the words communicate that will get you through a crisis.

Be honest, transparent and empathetic in what and how you communicate.

Take control of your story. If there is a vacuum someone will fill it for you.

Remember every crisis represents a risk to your reputation but also represents an opportunity to reinforce your values and what you stand for.