Hero Of The Hour – How To Effectively Manage The Reputation Of A Firm In Crisis

So the worst has happened. The firm whose reputation you manage has befallen a crisis. This is a trying time and how you handle it can save the firm’s reputation or malign it even further. Public perception is at its most critical and every step you take must be carefully thought out. Instead of seeing it as a challenge, look at it as an opportunity to create an even better public image of the firm you manage, to be the hero of the hour.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re managing the reputation of a firm in crisis:

Gather All The Facts:

The very firsts thing you must do as part of the crisis communication services you provide is to understand the issue that arose. Why did it happen? What were the factors that led to the crisis? You need to have as much information as possible. This will enable you to analyse the crisis and craft an effective public relations strategy. Do not take anything at simple face value, find out the background story. It may be tremendously tempting to respond to the crisis right away, but it is vital that you are completely aware of all the aspects of a crisis first. It becomes very easy to make assumptions, but to keep a cool head is the only way to understand an issue fully and identify the root of the problem.

Communicate Conservatively:

Just because you know all the details of the crisis, does not mean that they need to be shared with the whole world. Judge which facts need to be presented. Keep all communication relevant and remember that the more you share, the more is left put in the open for criticism. Keep any messages to the public short and to the point. Address the issue, render appropriate apologies, clarify what needs to clarified, but do not make your message to the public a platform for publicity. Let the firm’s corrective actions speak for it.

Assume Responsibility:

Sure, putting a positive spin on a story is part of crisis communication support. But you need to remember that a firm in crisis has lost a great amount of trust in the eyes of the public and stakeholders. What you should be aiming to do is build that trust again. Therefore, it is essential that the firm accepts any mistakes it has made and apologises. Do not try to justify the firm’s actions, be as honest and upfront about the issue as you can. Do not make excuses or assumptions about the situation. The blame game will only serve to further weaken the position of the firm. Assure the stakeholders that the firm is doing its very best to fix the problem. Share some of the corrective strategies planned if you feel it is appropriate.

Approach the crisis with maturity and a cool head and you will always be able to get out of the situation with the firm’s dignity intact, and be the ‘hero of the hour’.

Sigmund Freud’s Nephew and Corporate Alien Control

His name was Edward L. Bernays. He was Sigmund Freud’s Nephew. He was born in Vienna on November 22, 1891 and died in his home at Cambridge, Massachusetts on March 9, 1995 at the age of 103.

Before the early twentieth century, marketers thought of people as being rational beings. They figured all they had to do was reason with the public logically if they wanted to sell their product. Freud’s theories pointed out that everyone also possessed an unconscious mind filled with instincts and hidden emotions as sex, security, aggression, and survival. This unconscious mind greatly influences how people as a whole behave.

Edward Bernays was raised in the United States. He spent a lot of the summers of his youth vacationing in Austria and getting to know firsthand some of his famous uncle’s theories. He used what he learned to formulate the most useful corporate alien theory on the planet. This theory is called “Public Relations” by some, and “Spin” by others. You and I have been influenced by spin for decades if we’ve lived in any so called “civilized” nation of the world.

Some of Bernays’ campaigns actually changed the behavior of most Americans. In the mid twenties, a company called Beechnut Packing wanted to improve its sales of bacon. Bernays, instead of creating a campaign to put the bacon on sale created a new and unheard of use for the product. He asked the medical community if it was better for people to have a hardy breakfast or a light breakfast. Doctors agreed that a hearty breakfast was better. The breakfast of that period consisted of toast, coffee, and juice. Bernays added bacon and eggs to this breakfast. He started a marketing campaign that touted the medical benefits of a hearty breakfast that included bacon and eggs. To this day, an “all American” breakfast includes bacon and eggs.

Another of his campaigns was for the American Tobacco Company. By the mid twenties, smoking was prevalent in the United States and cigarettes were the most popular form of tobacco. Women, however, were not allowed to smoke in public. In 1928 the American Tobacco Company hired Bernays to try and change this. He consulted with a psychoanalyst A.A. Brill, who suggested that what women really want was the freedom to do the same things men do. So during New York’s 1929 Easter Parade, Bernays hired debutantes to march in the parade pretending to be suffragettes. On his signal, these women all lit up a cigarette. He had photographers standing by to mark the event and referred to cigarettes as being “torches of freedom.” It appeared that anyone against women smoking was against women’s liberation as well. Bernays saw to it that this event was publicized throughout the world. Smoking by women everywhere quickly skyrocketed when they began to associate cigarettes with freedom.

Here is how Bernays felt about Public Relations and democracy:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

Democracies are not the only forms of government that use spin. Doctor Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, kept copies of Bernays’ books in his extensive “mind control” library. Bernays never had Hitler as a client, but some techniques from his books were used in the Nazi campaign against the Jews.

During his later years Bernays saw how Public Relations was currently being misused. On his hundredth birthday in 1991 he said: “Public relations today is horrible. Any dope, any nitwit, any idiot can call him or herself a public relations practitioner.” He really wanted the science of Public Relations to be used for the good of mankind.

In order to use the science of Spin, one needs to enough money to wage a successful campaign and media approval. Today, there are only six or seven media corporations that control the majority of the news and entertainment the public sees. Governments have enough power to approve or deny what the public sees. The media only spins government policies that are considered “patriotic” and “politically correct.” Big corporations, because of massive wealth, buy the needed spin for their products to stand out. Corporate alien leaders thus determine what is good for the people.

During the Viet-Nam war the American people were constantly being told through the media that if the communists won in Viet-Nam, democracy would be lost. The communists won and nothing happened. There were over 58,000 Americans killed, 303,000 wounded and over 3,800,000 Vietnamese lost their lives. Many Americans still believe the media spin and think the war was necessary.

The current Iraqi war has the government again launching a Public Relations campaign. Now the word “terrorism” is constantly being spun in the media as a threat to “freedom.” According to the media, terrorists seem to be everywhere. Opposing this war could get you labeled as a traitor. You may get called a “conspiracy theorist” if you question the government’s explanation of the events leading to this war.

Elections are handled exclusively by the media. The candidate that invests the largest amount of money or wages the best Public Relations campaign wins. How qualified is the candidate? No one knows. The government can save a lot of election expenses by just appointing Paris Hilton as president and Jay Leno as vice-president. This result would be equivalent to that of the actual elected candidates in the next election. The people are controlled by spin initiated by powerful corporate aliens controlling the media. Spin requires a candidate to always look good, but ignores the candidate’s actual ability to do his or her job efficiently. No candidate, however qualified, can win without a lot of money to buy spin campaigns. Candidates are just faces and personalities that distract the masses and really may have very little of the skills needed to run the government. There seems to be an “invisible government” as Bernays said that is the true ruling power.

In order to have a true election, media must be left out of the election process. I believe that this is possible, but will not occur anytime soon for obvious reasons. Logic, not unconscious impulse must guide our choices.

Not all people succumb to spin. The more a person thinks as an individual, the less likely his or her ideas are affected by media campaigns. This is why, while most people today believe, because of the media, that there’s a terrorist lurking around every corner, some still question this premise. Being aware of how your unconscious mind can influence your thoughts can get you to investigate more of what the media tells you before reaching a conclusion.

The recent film “Thank You for Smoking”, now on DVD, is an insightful and entertaining feature covering the subject of spin. A book that covers more of Bernays campaigns and Public Relations in general is “The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays & the Birth of Public Relations” by Larry Tye.

Thoughts on Social Media Policy: Which Strategy Do You Choose?

Business leaders recognize that customers and potential customers expect real-time interaction with and quick reaction time from their businesses. Many also recognize that social media tools can enhance interactions with this external audience and are useful for monitoring the business brand online.

Most good leaders also recognize that employees interact and influence customers in many ways, and recognize the value of an engaged workforce to positive customer interactions.

Yet many businesses still ban or try to centralize control of social media use in the workplace, stifling the potential of an engaged workforce.

Three social media strategies

Social media policy seems to fall into one of three categories:

1. Shut it all down, block it!: Sometimes this policy stems from external requirements, as can happen in government workplaces.

But often this approach stems from a fear that employees will be wasting time on social media sites or will use such sites to share proprietary information or to make disparaging comments about the company. Or it may stem from an inability or unwillingness to provide education and to promote effective use of these powerful tools.

Whatever the reason, this approach can signal a complete lack of trust in the workforce, or naivety about the access employees already have. Neither of these is conducive to an engaged workforce!

2. Limit access with lots of rules: This approach attempts to capture every possible appropriate and inappropriate use of social media tools into a mind-numbing rule book, in an apparent effort to leave little to chance.

Or, as a modification on the previous approach, the use of social media tools is restricted to one or a few people, possibly in public relations or marketing or human resources, whose job is deemed to include interacting with the public.

Such an approach fails to recognize that all employees influence customer and public opinion about the business, regardless of job title. It also fails to recognize the value of an engaged workforce to positive customer interactions. To the workforce, it can feel as though they are being treated like toddlers who must be protected from themselves. Or worse, such an approach, like the first one, can indicate a lack of trust in employee judgment or an inability or unwillingness to engage in discussion and training.

3. Free access with the understanding that use is monitored: Unlike the others, this approach offers guidelines and places trust in employees to use social media responsibly and to accept consequences for failing to do so.

It recognizes the influence that every employee brings to bear with customers and the public, and chooses to expect the best but certainly can come with the proviso “as a leadership team if we feel that a one-on-one conversation is required to clarify our standards we will follow-up with you directly“.

This approach does require the most effort to communicate with and educate managers and employees about the brand, the company, and the audience, and help them frame choices about the use of social media in that context. But the potential benefits to the business are great as well.

Rulebook versus guidelines — which social media policy would you prefer?

Think about it. Treat people like toddlers and they’ll act like toddlers. Treat them like responsible adults and that’s who you’ll be interacting with. Which would you rather have representing your company?

Instead of running from the problem and limiting employee reach on the internet, consider opening up access to all social sites and tools, so that employees can take an active role in managing the business’s online presence.

Getting there

1. Know what your culture and brand are all about.

2. Be able to clearly articulate to your employees how they can help or hinder both culture and brand using social media.

3. Provide the time, the training, the support, and the guidance to coach managers and employees on their options and their responsibilities.

4. Have the resources to monitor and “course correct” when needed.

5. Realize that whether you have five employees or 500, they are all representing your brand and company almost every minute of every day on and off social media.

Leverage the potential of social media and an engaged workforce!

Copyright 2011 Christine McLeod