Building a positive reputation in the midst of a crisis may seem counterintuitive. Yet, as we have seen in the Covid-19 event, the worst of times can bring out the best in people and organizations. Five tools, likely present in your professional toolbox, will improve your ability to guide organizations in enhancing their reputations during a crisis.

First, remember that the situation will come to an end.

When trouble erupts, the first step is to stop the bad things most responsible for damage. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a crisis has a beginning, middle and end. Being prepared to convey certainty and clear direction in the various phases of the crisis will go far in maintaining and expanding trust among audiences and stakeholders.

Be transparent.

In crisis situations, transparency is not only expected, but also tested. Yet, too many people and organizations still are drawn in by the siren’s song of telling audiences what they want to hear instead of speaking truth. Demonstrating undeniable honesty and openness, whether highlighting the good or the bad, drives audience confidence in your integrity.

Stay focused on the facts.

Today, quickly capturing and assessing facts of the situation, then basing decisions on those facts, can be challenging. One could argue this is the result of biased communication channels that can hold special interests at heart. The smartphone in your pocket relies on four satellite data points to provide you with reliable location information. Taking the same approach to news provided to key stakeholders – good or bad – minimizes backtracking in a crisis and maintains a confident focus on outcomes.

Make corrections when mistakes are made or conditions change.

Even the most diligent teams can experience a shift in knowledge or make an error based on the speed of an unfolding crisis. At the first sign of a material error, make a concise – yet, definitive – correction. Brevity and clarity should be the guiding principle in revising any message or associated action. Once corrected, seek the root cause of the error – not to blame, but to understand any process errors that need to be corrected. Quickly recognizing and correcting errors reinforces key trust.

Following the crisis, include those impacted in the crisis when gathering feedback.

Just as at other points in important relationships, engaging customers, clients or key stakeholders in an appropriate way after a crisis demonstrates the value you place on their interests and needs. Being open to both positive and negative feedback on performance and outcomes sends a strong message about values, which are a key driver of reputation.

Whether connected to broad current events or triggered by a different incident in the future, the most respected organizations are those that place a premium on honesty, integrity and outcomes in a crisis situation. A well-crafted, well-rehearsed and well-implemented communication plan at a time of crisis and the ability to do the next right thing will do more to enhance reputational value than nearly any other communication tool.

Blake Lewis III
Blake Lewis III
Founder and Principal, Three Box Strategic Communications
Blake Lewis, APR, Fellow PRSA. Blake Lewis founded Lewis Public Relations, Three Box’s predecessor firm, in 2000. As Principal and a strategic communications expert, he provides senior communications counsel to clients and manages general business operations. Blake has a bachelor of science in telecommunicative arts from Iowa State University. He’s a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), earned the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential in 1985 and was inducted into the Society’s College of Fellows in 2005.

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