Five steps to reputational recovery post-crisis

Solomon once said that ‘from the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.’ In crisis recovery, this means that what you say (and how you say it) is just as important as what you do.

Most organisations have a crisis plan for dealing with a serious incident – RBS’s Stephen Hester was commendably quick off his mark when the bank’s recent IT glitch struck. But few have an effective plan for repairing reputation progressively after the event.

The tailing off of media interest post-crisis is not an accurate measure of communications success as stakeholders can often be left with a damaging impression of your organisation or brand.

1                     Intent

It’s good practice to start a crisis plan – and recovery plan – with a strategic intent for how you will emerge from the crisis, both operationally and reputationally. This could be: ‘Our business operations will be restored to normal, our staff and customers protected and reputation upheld.” Your recovery work on the ground and communications tactics should flow from this.

 2                     Issues

During and soon after the crisis, issues will emerge that need addressing to correct any false impressions created or remedy real problems and communicate the remedial action. These could include mismatches between reality and reporting in the media and social media buzz. Map these issues out and decide what needs communicating or correcting right away and what messages need rolling out over time during the recovery period.

3                     Interested parties

Stakeholders apart from customers and journalists will be interested in your incident and how you’re recovering from it. Who are your key influencers that have a bearing on your reputation? Politicians, for example, will base their impression of your business on what they last read in the media in the absence of other sources. Draw up a plan to communicate with each audience directly, where practical, appropriate and commensurate to the scale of your incident. But be careful in written material to say only what you’d be happy to see appearing in the press.

4                     Initiative

During the crisis much of your communications will have been be reactive. Particularly if your operation is high profile, you will be inundated with media calls and bombarded with questions and interview requests. When the dust settles a few days or weeks after ‘C-Day’ it’s tempting to breathe a sigh of relief and say “well that’s that out of the way,” but lingering stakeholder perceptions could paint a different picture.

In the wake of RBS’s computer system failings over the past fortnight, which it continues to troubleshoot, the bank will need to look a few months ahead as to how it can proactively restore customers’ confidence in its reliability. This may include placing stories with angles reinforcing its ‘robustness’ in business and IT media, as well as finding ways rapidly to step up ‘nice touches’ in customer service. It will want to consider the likely impacts of unpopular moves in the pipeline such as interest rate hikes, and readjust to avoid alienating customers even further.

5                     Indicators

The media, in the event of major crises, will often use time hooks such as and ‘one month on’ to revisit your incident to assess the impact. Rather than reacting to these defensively, could you turn them into opportunities to indicate proactively the progress made, lessons learned and outlook for the future?

The above five points are really a starting point in recovery process. It’s vital to take professional advice from a seasoned crisis practitioner who can come alongside you to help you map out your recovery plan. As the wise man also said: ‘Do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you – better a neighbour nearby than a brother far away.’