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Risk Managers: What’s Your Plan for a Public Relations Crisis?

Risk Managers: What’s Your Plan for a Public Relations Crisis?

​Companies have no shortage of business risks to avoid, with the COVID-19 pandemic, a labor shortage and rising consumer costs all at the top of this year’s management ticket.One risk that may supersede them all, however, is damage to a company’s reputation. Case in point: According to a recent survey from Willis Towers Watson, 75.5 percent of the risk managers surveyed said their C-suite “was either somewhat or very committed or invested to managing reputational risk.” Nearly 80 percent said their company would be more committed to brand protection in the next five years than it is right now.Facing Down Reputational Risk: An Action PlanIf a public relations crisis does occur, companies need to address it quickly and decisively, before events spiral out of control and consume the company. Corporate decision-makers looking for guidance on handling a public relations crisis can take these steps.Brace for impact. In August, Delta Airlines announced it was going to charge employees an additional $200 per month for health insurance if they didn’t get the COVID-19 vaccine. Since Delta announced the vaccine-related insurance premiums, its stock price has fallen over 5 percent. Feelings on COVID-19 vaccines run hot, so public relations experts say company leaders need to be prepared for the backlash if they insert the corporation’s brand into a heated national health policy debate.To address a controversial decision that could negatively impact a big consumer brand like Delta, be direct with the public, advised John Millen, managing partner at Millen Group, an employee benefits advisory firm in Richmond, Va. “Act quickly and decisively,” Millen said. “This may go against the instinct and guidance of hired consultants, but … own the issue and take the hit.”Delta did wind up keeping the insurance premium intact, but major media companies have pointed out the uphill climb companies face by getting directly involved with employee health decisions. Reflect and collect before reacting. While quick and decisive action is important, try to gather as much information and as many facts as possible before reacting. “Recklessness will make the situation worst,” said Courtney Quigley, a reputational brand consultant with Rize Reviews, a brand management consultancy in Arlington, Texas. “Assign one spokesperson to avoid inconsistent messages or statements. Create a statement and distribute it to all employees. Also, be transparent with your employees on what is happening. Ensure they know how to react to the situation, and [advise them to] steer any inquiries to the assigned company spokesperson.”Build a brand management team that’s ready to go. The primary goal of any executive in a crisis should be to limit the damage and control the problem. “That’s why it’s important to have a communications team—whether in-house or contracted—[that] can handle media relations during a crisis while the executive leadership team works to end the problem as soon as possible,” said Stephanie McCay, director of U.S. communications for PCL Construction, a construction company in Denver. “Media training is critical in the event your executive does have to address the media.”Get the cameras rolling. …