Modern Communicators, PR & Reputation: Thinking AHEAD
When you’re in PR, you’re part of your company’s reputation management team―reputation is on your mind, and always top-of-mind for the C-Suite. In 2016, according to the views of 300 CEOs captured by Deloitte data, “87 percent [of CEOs] rated reputational risk as being more important when compared to other strategic risks”. Practicing PR in the 21 st century requires an intense focus on brand health and public trust and confidence. You can’t take your eyes off of your brand or stop monitoring how the public feels about it.
Today, every company has a reputational risk. Social media and mobile technologies increase the speed of communication and how the public actively shares what they see and how they feel, 24/7. Modern communicators know that it takes years to build a good reputation and only a matter of minutes to tear one down. Dissatisfied customers can instantly make their concerns public, cry out about privacy issues and policies, and express opinionated views about company executives. As a result, PR pros are often extinguishing more fires than ever before while navigating uncharted media waters.
However, one trait should remain a constant in PR: being proactive. The ability to be proactive vs. reactive can mean the difference between managing issues successfully and with a positive outcome instead of watching them snowball into crisis. Yes, there will be times when you’re reacting to the news and your consumers on social media, but mitigating damage requires PR pros to proactively seek information about a situation, help to identify the problems and challenges that make these situations occur, and get out in front of a damaging story with transparency and accurate information.
I talk about the ‘Think AHEAD’ model in my book, Answers for Modern Communicators. Thinking AHEAD can help neutralize or even prevent reputational damage, and is worth the upfront investment.
Here’s a breakdown of the Think AHEAD approach.
A is to Anticipatewhat could happen. Have you thought about possible scenarios that could hurt your brand? The people involved, situations, and even the different times of the year may vary depending on your company and its business. Monitoring your brand can lead to better reputation management. During the work week, on weekends or over the holidays, the conversations don’t stop, particularly when fueled by a negative experience. Monitoring and intelligence gathering platforms can help you catch information the moment the situation occurs, or takes a turn for the worse, so you can respond as needed.
H is to Head off any situation before it gets out of hand. Here’s where social media has taught many brands a lesson about the need to be very quick to acknowledge what is happening through communication channels. Whether it’s on your blog, in online forums or social media networks, you have to be ready to address your constituents. Time relates to impact―if you want your reputation to fare well, then the sooner you address audiences (who expect to hear from you and explain what’s happened), the better off you likely are after the situation resolves.
E is to Evaluate what is unfolding in real time and fully understand the situation. It is imperative to get your information from first-hand, reliable sources. Uncover the facts and carefully review the details you’ll need before you officially communicate any action on behalf of your company. Now is your time to discover any “smoking guns” and to be as thorough as possible with your background analysis. Information is powerful and can help you tell the right story to the parties who need to hear all of the unfolding details from you.
A is to Actquickly and implement any action steps to help the people affected. With social media and a very dynamic public, speed is of the essence. Today, citizen journalists are highly digitized and active on social media. According to an eMarketer report, affluent millennial households spend 53 hours online per week. They're capturing important moments through photos and videos and they're also sharing how they feel as situations unfold.
Regardless of their active sharing, it is your communication and action steps that are not only imperative but also expected promptly. Modern communicators know when it comes to reputation, you will be judged not only by what you say but by what you do. Actions will always speak louder than words.
D is to Determinethe level of your communication success by measuring the effects of your outreach and how your actions are perceived. Without measuring the effectiveness of your AHEAD approach, you will never know if you are neutralizing the situation, satisfying people with the information they require, helping the groups who are affected, or if what you are doing is escalating a situation and making it worse.
Once again, monitoring and intelligence-gathering platforms can help gauge reactions and perceptions every step of the way. At all times, you want to make sure you are addressing and changing the negative commentary and shifting the conversation into more positive territory, as you strive to keep your reputation intact.
The AHEAD approach is simple in the sense that it is easy to understand. The tricky part is getting your entire team to also Think AHEAD, including leadership, marketing, sales, and customer service. The think AHEAD attitude has to penetrate your company. Can you imagine if everyone was on board and would think AHEAD with you?
Deirdre Breakenridge Pure Performance Communications podcaster LinkedIn Learning Answers for Modern Communicators, A Business Guide to Communication
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