What’s your reputation worth?

Your reputation is built on what you do, say and what others day about you.

Following a Twitter conversation last week, I was taken by surprise (or was I?), when someone started a conversation with me about the role public relations practitioners have in a crisis and protecting reputation at all costs.

The conversation wasn’t based around a specific scenario. I’ve tried to go back and read over the conversation, but the person has deleted all their tweets.

My argument was, that in a crisis (in this conversation, where it’s the ‘fault’ of the client/organisation), public relations practitioners have to fact find before reporting or discussing the matter. Fact finding is the first step to understanding the situation and it also allows the practitioner to be able to be fully informed when writing statements and briefings.

The person who I had the conversation with said that the number one priority was to protect the reputation of the client/organisation. Whilst I agree our role is to protect the reputation of the client, public relations has a duty to inform ‘publics’ of the facts.

reputationThink of all your audiences – employees, stakeholders, shareholders, media, government – this list goes on.

I refer to the definition of PR which the CIPR outlines as “Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.
“Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”

So, yes, it’s about reputation, but if you move on and look at the bigger picture, relationships are built on trust. Trust is built on the reliability of the truth. How on earth can a practitioner not tell the truth if our role is with the “aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour”?

I made the bold statement that I wouldn’t work with a client if a) they didn’t tell the truth or b) wouldn’t allow me access to the facts, so I was informed. That’s me – led by ethics, morals and doing what’s right.

The person I had the Twitter conversation with said he would do whatever the client asked as he was paid by them. I think that says a lot. He made out that anyone signed up to a membership organisation, I think because they are bound by a code of conduct, was playing in a ‘club’. He then said he owed the public nothing. What I was talking about was ‘publics’ – the very people the organisation is trying to build relationships with and influence. And to be so negative about people who ‘sign up to PR club’s rules’, says a lot about how they view a commitment to professional and ethical standards. Ethical conduct is essential in public relations (and the media) and in wider business.

To earn respect as a brand, you need to be trusted. Your ‘publics’ need to trust you in order to buy from you or work with you.

Honesty, transparency and ethical working is what most businesses work towards. Big or small.

The second big point made was about damage to reputation. In order for things to get better, you have to admit your wrong doing and hold your hands up to say you got it wrong. I’d advise all clients to do the right thing. This means there will inevitably be some damage to reputation and it’s up to the practitioner to manage the damage with a strategy. But from here, it’s the role of public relations to advise on how to rebuild relationships and rebuild trust.

The very point that there might be a crisis in the first place, indicates the need for better risk assessment, better warning systems in place, a revision of personnel and processes and the need for a solid issues and crisis management communications plan.

I spoke to Amanda Coleman. Head of Corporate Communications at Greater Manchester Police. She delivered an amazing presentation at PRFest last year discussing some of the elements of the Manchester terrorist attack. She was supportive of my comments on Twitter and said ” We also have a responsibility to the profession and the image/reputation of what we do.

“In all my years dealing with crises the key has been openness, honesty, accountability and that brings trust and confidence in the management of the response. Doing what the client asks may be easy but it could be signalling the end of the business. The crisis is not ours anyway it is something affecting people and that is where are focus should be on those who are affected both inside and outside the organisation.”

So true Amanda. What would be worse, is if there was no public relations practitioner or team involved and there was no strategy in place to manage the situation and sadly, this is the case for many businesses.

My advice would be to have a go-to practitioner if you don’t have any in-house team and work with them to develop a risk assessment and scenario plan. Then from there, develop a strategy to identify and manage crisis situations. That way you’ll have the support you need. Don’t leave it too late. Think about how the damage to your reputation will be affected, in business terms, mainly the bottom line.

If you’d like to read more about crisis comms, see this post I wrote “Crisis management plan: what to consider” and if you need a go-to public relations practitioner to help advise and work with your business on crisis communications, get in touch, I’d love to discuss your business.