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20 Nov

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Starting Over, All Over Again. Don’t Bury Your Head in the Sand; Begin the Healing!
Post-crisis steps for brand rehabilitation

November 20, 2014 | By |

I’ve attended several data privacy events over the previous few months where the business, insurance, and cybersecurity industries along with the government have shifted their focus solely from breach response and prevention to planning…finally.  While this bellwether change is a promising one, there is still one area industry fails to address in this mission critical conversation: how do we rehabilitate a brand once a crisis has occurred?  This is both a marketing challenge as well as a consumer trust issue, and one business must begin to discuss.   Why does it matter? Massive crises, like the Target, JP Morgan Chase, and now Staples data breaches have had monumental impact on our lives, from stock market drops, to $100M plus business costs, missed earnings, and unsustainable insurance payouts, to lasting effects on our identities, and the promise of regulatory action imposed on us all.  The marked brand damage following a crisis is a consideration for us all.  Quite simply, if it can happen to JP Morgan Chase, it can certainly happen to you.

Rehab begins once the crisis passes, or does it?
The question of when to declare a crisis over is one public relations professionals and attorneys a like debate regularly.  It is a valid question because of the considerable industry, regulatory, legal and consumer attention to a matter.  While human nature drives us to want to minimize a crisis and hide from the glare of the critical spotlight, that response is simply impossible.  The increasing number of crises (data breaches, hacks, malware attacks, HIPAA violations, the Ebola scare, the NFL mishandling of player abuse, exploding airbags, and the list goes on and on), and the increasing regulatory, media and consumer awareness of these crises make our standard approach untenable.  Therefore, the market dictates when a crisis is over and a crisis cannot be deemed “over” until you’ve regained the eroding trust of your consumer base, industry peers, business partners, the market, and regulators.  So we must face the situation squarely and transparently and begin the healing process immediately.  In fact, I believe the process of brand rehabilitation really begins before the crisis hits. It is a fluid process that exists throughout the lifecycle of a brand.

Tools in your toolshed
At this point, I think we would all agree that organizations must have a crisis plan in place and rehearsed prior to an event.  Included in that plan should be the many public relations tools used to develop and evolve a brand from its inception throughout its lifecycle.  These are tools that when revisited during an active incident, and post-event, constitute your brand rehabilitation program, including:

  • Messaging-constantly refine and test your messages to meet the dynamic marketplace.
  • Media Training-your spokesperson needs regular training to be unflappable when the moment hits.
  • Media Roadshows & Desk Side Visits-get to know the media who cover your company and industry, become a regular source so they are friendly to your cause when you need to tell your story.
  • Op-Eds, White Papers & Letters to the Editor-develop a consistent voice in your space, provide insight and lead the conversation.  The respect you foster will prove the loyalty needed to weather any storm.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility-get involved in your community on a local, national or international level and give back to foster respect in the marketplace.  Chose a charity that’s close to your heart and make it your own, from the C-suite throughout your enterprise.  Chose a lesser-known charity or create your own foundation for cultural, moral, and business benefits alike.  Giving also lends to a culture of camaraderie and a happy workforce.
  • Community Relations Campaign-engage your consumer base to garner feedback, invite input on improvements to your corporate culture, and show you’re a willing partner to your customer, as they determine your ultimate success.
  • Issue Advertising-show your commitment to improvement through a campaign that addresses the crisis.  However, don’t wait to act until your brand has been permanently tarnished, like the NFL and their recent PSA campaign on abuse.  That response is both a day late and a dollar short, as well as seemingly hollow.  To use yet another adage: that ship has sailed years ago.  The consumer is more sophisticated than you realize.  Don’t offend them. 
  • Industry Association-join your colleagues in an effort to make a real impact in the market through a collective effort.  Industry regulation is also arguably preferable to state, or federal regulatory action.

If you find yourself in a crisis, don’t panic.  Put your head down and forge ahead.  Most events are manageable.  Build a resilient brand now and your brand should sustain most any crisis event.  If you’re committed to building and sustaining a strong brand through a consistent program of public relations and crisis planning, you’ll weather most any storm.  The consuming public is typically forgiving.  Consider if you will Tylenol: from the poison pill to the leading pain reliever.  Now, that’s brand rehab.