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Key PR Lessons on Protecting Brand Reputation

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What do ITV and the CBI have in common? Both have recently been marred by allegations of serious misconduct, resulting in public criticism and the potential for irreparable reputational damage.

The recent controversies surrounding both high-profile organisations – one, the UK’s biggest commercial broadcaster, the other the self-proclaimed ‘voice of business’ – underscore the importance of protecting brand reputation. But how can organisations effectively navigate potential crises and protect their brand’s image?

Address internal issues promptly

The cases of ITV and the CBI showed that the vacuum that can exist if action isn’t taken internally to investigate and resolve allegations when they arise, can be quickly filled with negative speculation and damaging rumours. Colleagues may be more likely to consider external whistleblowing – such as alerting media or regulators – if left unsatisfied with how issues have been handled, compounding public mistrust of the brand’s reputation.

It is essential for organisations to conduct thorough and impartial investigations, involving independent third parties if necessary, to ensure transparency and maintain credibility. They should be prepared, as much as legally possible, to share the findings of the investigation with relevant stakeholders, demonstrating a commitment to not only address the particular issue but also preventing similar incidents in the future.

Foster a culture of inclusion and ethical practices

A workplace fit for purpose is a workplace that values diversity, inclusion, and ethical practices. This needs to be embedded across the entire organisation so that all employees feel comfortable and empowered in their everyday working routines, eliminating any potential mistrust or negativity towards company culture. Implementing robust duty of care processes and promoting a culture of open communication is essential to ensuring that colleagues feel comfortable to speak up when they want to raise concerns.

Proactive crisis management is essential

Organisations must be vigilant in monitoring potential issues and have a well-prepared, multi-scenario crisis management plan in place. This plan – which needs to be rehearsed and regularly updated – should outline key actions, communication strategies, and designated spokespeople to provide a coordinated response. Being proactive allows organisations to address the situation swiftly and demonstrate their commitment to resolving the issue to mitigate reputational harm. Being on the front foot is crucial in order to get ahead of the story or risk being in a continuously reactive mode.

Learn from mistakes

In the aftermath of a reputational crisis, it is crucial for organisations to learn from their mistakes and communicate effectively. This involves acknowledging any mishandling, taking responsibility and outlining concrete steps to prevent similar incidents in the future. Clear communication with stakeholders, including customers, employees and shareholders, helps rebuild trust and demonstrates a commitment to positive change.

As we’ve seen with the likes of ITV and the CBI – who have arguably both been behind the pace of the story – a strong communications strategy is not only important to safeguard a brand’s reputation, but essential to mitigate against an existential threat.

Organisations need to be transparent, admit mistakes, take responsibility for their actions, and demonstrate they have learned from the issue and made appropriate changes. Swift and honest communication is vital in maintaining trust from the public, employees, and other stakeholders. In today’s highly connected world, where all news spreads rapidly and bad news instantly, reputation management must be a fundamental part of every organisation’s PR strategy.