Executive Blunders, Reputation Recon: Real-World Crisis Communications

Q: What do Lockheed Martin, the CIA and Waffle House have in common?

A: Their leaders have all made headlines thanks to personal scandals. For most people, mistakes in one’s personal life don’t have long-term business repercussions. For a high-profile executive on the other hand, every move may be monitored by employees, clients and the media. One mistake can significantly impact his (or her) reputation as well as the stability of the company.

What would you do if your CEO had a public personal blunder? Do you know the key steps required to reputation damage control? Here are a few essential action items to regain stakeholder trust:

Monitor Conversations & Acknowledge Situation

Always be aware of what’s happening in the media and online to gauge whether or not additional commentary is needed. Silence is often seen as an admission of guilt. Demonstrate that your team is focused on the problem. It’s essential to participate in the conversation.

Select Spokesperson & Develop Messages

Quickly determine who will be speaking on behalf of the company. The communicator should be briefed and up-to-date on the situation and details. Someone who has spoken publicly in the past about the company or has media training would be the best option. Do not immediately accept blame until complete details are determined. If an apology is appropriate, it needs to be authentic and not a rehearsed statement.

Identify & Engage Communication Platforms

To put out the fire, you need to go to the source. If people are talking about the issue on Twitter, it’s important to address the situation directly on Twitter. However, not all of your target audience consumes news in the same way or on the same medium. You don’t want to be criticized for not properly responding to questions generated from your statement. By leaving questions unanswered you risk the crisis snowballing.

Create & Implement Crisis Management Plan

After the situation has been addressed and is now old news to the media, it’s time to create a crisis management plan for your company to mitigate and minimize those mistakes in the future. Once the plan is in place, conduct scenario-based simulation exercises with your team to ensure that everyone understands protocol. In addition, conduct media training sessions every six to twelve months.

Stakeholders are brand ambassadors after all, and their confidence in a company’s leadership can be a driving force in the growth or decline of the organization. It’s important to keep the mindset that every company will have a crisis. But being prepared for different scenarios, including a personal and public misstep from a CEO, will ultimately determine your brand’s ability to bounce back.

Photo: Former CIA Director David Petraeus (credit: cbsnews.com)

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