Five guiding principles to managing a crisis: Ameer Ismail, PointNine Lintas

Guest Column: Ameer Ismail, President GolinOpinion, Chief Growth Officer PointNine Lintas, on the guiding principles organisations should follow to maintain a good corporate reputation, especially in times of crises

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” said Warren Buffet, and never were truer words spoken.

Maintaining a good corporate reputation is becoming increasingly critical with social media and the Internet broadcasting information at the speed of thought. These days, a crisis does not knock, it tweets.

However, with a focus on quick success, brand and business leaders fail to adopt a strategic approach towards corporate reputation.

Corporate reputation has a direct and absolute linkage and impact on business. It is also intrinsically linked to brand and shareholder value. For example, Facebook shares took a major hit and Mark Zuckerberg had doubts cast on his credibility after allegations of user data leaks earlier this year. In our own industry, one of the stalwarts of advertising, Sir Martin Sorrell, had to bring a long and glittering career at WPP to an end after allegations of misconduct were raised, leading to outrage from stockholders.

Closer to home, two of the most iconic names in the Indian financial services sector; Chanda Kochhar and Shikha Sharma, have seen themselves embroiled in their own controversies which have had a major negative impact on their respective personal brands.

Here are the five things that organisations should keep in mind to set up the building blocks of a strong crisis management system:

Be Prepared

Al Golin, Founder of Golin, famously said, “Fix it before it breaks.” Brands need to start taking pre-emptive measures when it comes to reputation management. As we can see, in cases such as, Mark Zuckerberg and others, when a crisis actually strikes, it is usually too late to do anything about it.

The most effective reaction to a crisis is a carefully coordinated crisis response. Without training, the best crisis planning documents are just a collection of words. Failure to empower employees with the procedures, methods and messages to use in a crisis results in a haphazard response, which will just compound the issue.

At GolinOpinion, we have initiated a process called Shield to ensure our clients’ crisis teams and response processes leave each session “pressure tested” and ready to respond in the event a crisis does strike.

Every Crisis Is An Opportunity

Organisations usually take a very defensive approach to crisis response. This attitude is not only outdated, but also risky. A crisis can be an opportunity to relook at how the organisation functions. It can result in the organisation sharpening its saw, figuratively speaking, and actually show itself to be open to change. Effective communications during a crisis depends on a company’s ability to identify opportunities to share its story and correct misinformation.

Take the case of Taco Bell. In 2011, the fast food chain was sued by an individual claiming it used just 35% beef in its dishes. Though initial outrage was widespread on social media and the claim caused a lot of media scrutiny, Taco Bell took the opportunity to launch a huge social media campaign educating people about the actual ingredients of Taco Bell products.

Be Decisive

An organisation that stands up and speaks during a time of crisis will get more credit for its actions than one that doesn’t. During the FSSAI-Maggie controversy, Nestlé stayed mostly quiet and the story metastasised. To their loyal customers, too, Nestlé appeared paralysed—or worse, guilty. Many Indians took the company’s silence as a sign of wrongdoing.

Responding with speed, transparency and integrity is the key. However, do not be in a hurry to get the communication out without giving it enough thought. In her book, Forged In Crisis, Nancy Koehn points at the ability to take a step back and assess the larger picture during a crisis before making a decision as an essential quality that some of the great leaders in history possessed. One cardinal rule to follow is to never treat a crisis as a standalone event. By keeping key stakeholders informed of developments, you can maintain their trust and confidence.

Communicate To Win

As Al Golin said, “In our business, if you play ‘not to lose’ rather than ‘to win’, you will never be a success.” Companies, and their reputations, are no longer safe behind corporate walls simply fending off aggressors. As mentioned earlier, a defensive approach towards crisis management no longer works. At every stage of the crisis, your communication should be transparent, clear and truthful, delivered with confidence. There should be belief that eventually the situation will get mitigated by timely actions. Once a crisis has been resolved, most organisations go back to a normal existence but the ones that win in the end don’t stop communicating and planning for the future.

Learn & Reinvent

If you are tied to a crisis, people expect you to take responsibility and be a part of the ultimate solution.

When Cadbury was hit by a storm after worms were allegedly found in one of its products, it quickly led to one of the most publicised cases and high-profile PR disasters to have taken place in India. Though initially the company denied any problems with its products and even took on the media, as the matter escalated, it quickly changed its approach. Suspending its advertising campaign, it concentrated on educating retailers on safety and hygiene. It took a hard look at its manufacturing and packaging processes and instituted several changes. Today, Cadbury is once again the No.1 in its category in the country. Instead of burying one’s head in the sand, brands should learn and adopt actions that will prevent a recurrence.

To conclude, the lesson here is that crises are inevitable but negative backlash can be mitigated and even turned to one’s advantage. These guiding principles mentioned above can provide the direction and framework to ensure that your brand’s reputation is protected at all times. 
The author is the President of GolinOpinion & Chief Growth Officer, PointNine Lintas

(Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com)
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