"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently." - Warren Buffett
Nowadays, sooner or later, every company, organisation, political party, government, or individual such as politicians, CEOs, partners, suppliers etc, will face the challenge of crisis issues and reputation management. From product recalls, personal allegations, negligence, management misconduct, corporate issues, environmental concerns, to hostile media, employee disputes, natural disasters, companies and individuals alike must be ready to respond effectively so as to minimise the damages of such crisis. So what are the "golden" rules of engagement/crisis management when such an incident occurs?
First of all, it has been proven through a number of cases, that a crisis is better addressed by a company on the collective level rather than the individual, in the case that a specific individual doesn't have to be held responsible. For example, if Coca-Cola, IKEA or Tesco experience a crisis situation, they might of course experience a drop in sales, consumers boycotting their products for a period of time or showing continuous distrust, but they will not collapse and disappear from the market in one night. On the other hand, the future of a CEO or supplier can be so ominous that only one reputation crisis can permanently destroy his career. Therefore it is common practice in companies to try and take the responsibility in the collective level, despite the fact that they might take measures against the actual people responsible for a crisis. These measures can be anything from dismissal to indictment.
What happens though in the case that the reputation crisis has -in the eyes of media and audience alike- personal blame in the face of a specific person e.g. the CEO of the company?
First rule is: SEEM TO WORK.
Those who are deemed responsible need to show that they are present, constantly working so as to contain the damage, solve the problem and take appropriate measures so as to never let it happen again. The CEO cannot be seen during the middle of the crisis returning from happy holidays in the Bahamas with his family or leaving a night club in the early morning hours. This happened in every successful handling of a crisis. They all seemed to be on top of the problem, they realised the severity of the situation, they seemed to be trying to find out what happened, to be doing everything in their power to solve it as soon as possible, they took full responsibility and measures, and took all the steps to ensure that this situation would not be repeated.
Second rule is: SET THE MEDIA AGENDA,
swiftly, firmly, with excitement. Instead of being afraid of media's criticism, they should embrace every single opportunity to be heard by the media, setting the agenda to their favour and telling their own story. They should be ready to accept punches under the belt and maintain their composure when facing tough criticism At the same time, they need to use every traditional and social media, and means available to demonstrate every action they were taking to resolve the situation and that they were working full time to restore the public's faith.
Third rule is: prevent what I call a "MEDIA-FRENZY VACUUM".
The person deemed responsible must avoid it at any cost. For example, let's say a CEO is accused of being responsible for a faulty product that requires being recalled. At the same time, his son is in rehab, something that he has managed to hide from the public, a problem that is of personal and privacy nature. Although the two issues have absolutely no connection to each other, the second's exposure can lead to a media-frenzy situation around the face of the CEO that will make resolving the first issue -the crisis- very difficult. This is why the above point of the agenda-setting is so important so as to lead media's focus where it must be and satisfy their "hunger" for further reputation smear campaign. This where I tend to disagree with G.K.Chesterton, who famously said in the Innocence of Father Brown that "Private lives are more important than public reputations." I truly believe that someone's private life is equally important with his public reputation in the case it is exposed.
Last rule: always have a CRISIS MANAGEMENT PLAN,
which will include anything from how to deal with a sudden crisis as soon as possible, to what the social media use plan will be.
But the most important advice is if you cannot handle a reputation crisis always HIRE someone who knows how to handle it. It is worth the expense a hundred times.