Overcoming Brand Damage – Turning Crisis into Opportunity

It occurred to me that there have been many text book examples in recent weeks of major international and Australian companies that have suffered some serious damage to their brand, image and corporate reputation.  In each case, the companies concerned have been called upon to respond to these challenges, which in public relations terms can be amongst the most difficult to overcome.

From an observational viewpoint, it seems the greatest crises tend to cluster around issues of health (James Hardie), ethics (David Jones), environmental damage (BP), safety (Qantas) and perceived corporate greed (Commonwealth Bank).

Each of these crises have given us real-life cautionary tales on how to (and how not to) mount a campaign to overcome an all-out assault on your brand, be it from within or without.  I’ve distilled my observations of how these and other companies have handled brand damage and assembled a list of ‘Dos’ in case you are ever in a similar situation (heaven forfend!)

1. Get on the front foot.  In the aftermath of a crisis, there will be a myriad of requests for interviews, and although it is important to allocate the appropriate time and resources to plan your communications approach, it is also crucial to face-up promptly and answer those questions with due honesty and respect.  Don’t avoid these opportunities, embrace them.  The timeliness of these appearances is important, too… if you take 48 hours to develop your ‘key messages’, by then the media can exacerbate the issue and your opportunity to tell your side of the story may have been negated or lost.

2. Humanise the company.  It is easy for your critics to see a company, particularly a larger one, as a faceless corporate monolith.  Choose a spokesperson who comes across as warm and sincere – it is more difficult to be critical when a company is represented by someone who comes across as concerned, empathetic and approachable.

3. Accept responsibility and express remorse.  Of course it’s important to receive legal advice, and to follow it, particularly in relation to admissions of liability, but if it is recognised that mistakes were made it’s important to own them, and if possible to express regret or to apologise.  These few words mean a lot, and can mean for those adversely affected by the crisis that they can begin their own process of recovery.

5. Be outcomes focused, and solution-oriented. Rather than get bogged down in the mechanics of the problem, try to switch the focus towards the active steps that are being taken to assess and address the problem.  Here it is worthwhile to refer to safety and planning procedures, and measures that are being put in place to ensure that whatever went wrong doesn’t happen again.  That is the reassurance that everyone is really looking for.

So let’s hope that if you or your company are ever called upon to defend your brand, you take a long-term view, and realise that a crisis is indeed an opportunity to renew the public’s relationship with your brand; and that if deftly handed, can actually WIN you new customers, partners and supporters.

Publicity QueenYours in PR

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