|Two Key and Overlooked Elements of Good PR
By: Gerard E. Mayers
The recent news of the leakage of millions of pages from documents in the Panama-based law firm of Mossack Fonseca (the “Panama Papers” scandal) brought home the importance of two key elements of good PR practice: reputational intelligence and crisis communications.
I sat down, in a manner of speaking, recently with Warren Cooper, Senior PR Executive at Evergreen Partners, Inc., a firm specializing in reputational intelligence and crisis communications for public and private companies, non-profits/NGOs, and others. I asked him some questions about these two elements, and he was happy to share his thoughts with me.
I first asked him about reputational intelligence and why it is so important for a good PR organization to utilize.
“Reputational intelligence is the corporate equivalent of personal responsibility,” Cooper says. “It stems from recognition that a company’s brand (what you sell and your marketing strategy) and its reputation (the market’s perception of what your company stands for) are distinct but complementary entities.”
Continuing further, Cooper noted, “Reputational intelligence is the active, ongoing effort to align your company with its optimal reputation — not only in the products/services it delivers, but also in its relations with customers, vendors, shareholders, and employees. A company that operates with reputational intelligence integrates reputational concerns into its daily operations and its strategic plan.”
All good and valuable points, it seems to me, and ones which any good PR entity should be constantly aware of, whether its practice specifically deals with its client's reputational aspects or not.
Since reputational intelligence and crisis communications can seem to go hand-in-hand, I asked Cooper if this is indeed what happens. He noted, “Being guided by reputational intelligence is like practicing fire prevention. The company will automatically initiate steps to eliminate or reduce the likelihood of misguided and inappropriate actions. Naturally, this includes putting in place a communication plan to be launched when the company is confronted with a crisis.”
Given the recent scandal experienced by many world leaders and other personages in the public eye over the leakage of documents from Mossack Fonseca, it is only natural to wonder when a good PR organization should draft a good crisis communications plan. Cooper notes, from his rich experience in this area, the best time to draft a crisis communications plan is “yesterday — if not before.”
“A company should have a crisis plan in place as a matter of course (and a crisis plan without a strong strategic communications component is simply incomplete and could prove ineffective). A robust crisis communications plan grows out of the reputational intelligence model — as does regularly revisiting and updating the plan,” he said. In today's current climate of data breaches, Cooper commented that “every business is a threat for a cyberattack or data breach. That is reason enough to create an initial crisis communication plan when establishing a business. In fact, it should be part of the business plan itself.”
You are probably already thinking, “You've convinced me that reputational intelligence and a good crisis communications plan are necessary for my clients. When should their C-level executives be brought into the picture when a crisis develops?”
Cooper did not mince words with the importance of this last point. “The question should be flipped,” he says. “The company’s communication director is an integral component of the C-Suite crisis response team and should be involved from the outset. If the director does not have crisis communications expertise, bringing in an outside consultant is crucial. (It’s not a bad idea to have such a consultant review and critique the communications plan in advance of any crisis.)”
Having an outside consultant expert review and critique a company's communications plan ahead of any crisis is a great idea, Cooper noted, because during “certain crises, C-level executives serve as a company’s spokesperson. Having the communications personnel as part of the team from the get-go gives the executive immediate and ongoing access (my italics-GEM) to the advice and training needed to effectively communicate under stressful circumstances with various audiences. Equally important, the expert will help the executive avoid communication blunders that might lead to litigation or negatively impact the firm’s litigation strategy should the crisis itself generate a lawsuit.”
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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