The CEO of Scouts Canada is seen running away from reporters asking questions about past youth leaders’ sexual abuse of children. A social media hashtag designed to promote positive images of New York City police officers is instantly appropriated to showcase police violence.
These are just two examples of the types of crises organizations can face that can have a lasting impact on their reputations. Examples like these offers valuable lessons for how to respond effectively (or not, as the case may be) to an attack on your organization’s brand. They also highlight the importance of a plan to protect your brand’s reputation before a challenge even happens.
Let’s start with protecting your organization’s good name. As Carlye Christianson and Melanie Lockwood Herman of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center write: “When difficulties arise, a good reputation can also serve as a retaining wall that affords your nonprofit the ‘benefit of the doubt.’” Maintaining your organization’s reputation starts with doing good and behaving ethically.
Taking a passive approach to reputation management—that is, waiting for a crisis to happen to discover how little influence your organization has—poses a bigger risk than taking active steps beforehand to strengthen your reputation. A fundamental question all communicators should ask is, Can our organization stand up to intense and constant public scrutiny in the event of a crisis? If the answer is no, it’s time to change your approach.
Listen, watch and track
An active approach to reputation management involves monitoring, seeking feedback and objectively assessing public expectations and views. Communicators can accomplish this by:
- Identifying risks and threats in seven areas: human resources, operational issues, regulatory issues, community and donor issues, corporate malfeasance, and service errors.
- Auditing their organization’s digital footprint to see what is being said about the company and by whom.
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