Of course PR is all about reputation, or is it? I was given the opportunity of talking about the role that reputation should, or shouldn’t, play in crisis communication and response at a CIPR event this week. It may seem obvious to say that reputation is at the heart of PR but when you are developing a crisis plan do we have to think differently?
PR and communication is continually challenged by ethical dilemmas. It is one of the sure things for every one of us, that we will be put in a difficult position where we need to review what approach we take. Ensuring we work to the highest professional standards is essential for us as individuals, for the profession as a whole, and also for the people who may be caught up in your crisis.
I say ‘your crisis’ but it really isn’t. When something goes wrong, a disaster happens or a problem occurs it is not just your crisis it is a crisis for every person that is involved or connected to it. Remembering that is important when you are looking at what communication actions to take, what words to use and how to advice those leading the response from the business. At a moment of crisis is when communicators are under the most pressure and have to be ready and able to respond. It is a time when communication becomes critical whether it is saving lives, protecting property or maintaining trust and confidence.
If our sole focus is on protecting and safeguarding the reputation of the business we are putting on a set of blinkers. We can potentially lose sight of what is happening and the environment that we are working in. We will be looking inward at the organisation rather than outward at those who are being impacted by the situation. We are running to our timescale and timetable rather than seeing how communities and individuals are responding. So let’s take those blinkers off.
Start looking at the impact of the work you do. Consider who is receiving your communication, what will it mean to them and how can you make improvements. Remember that although you may be working for an organisation you are still part of society and you have ethical responsibilities from being a communicator. As I said at the event this week I am not having a Miss World moment where I am looking to help children and old people. This is about effective communication that helps people through a period of unrest, uncertainty and challenge.
It doesn’t matter who we are working for or where we are working we can all make a difference by ensuring that our crisis response is focused on what matters – the people involved, affected, and responding to the situation. Reputation, for me, comes from doing the right things and then building the communication around it.