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Volkswagen woes highlight reputation risks

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SINGAPORE — One area that few risk managers focus on for their organizations is how to manage fallout from an event that can damage a firm's reputation, according to reputation risk manager Leesa Soulodre.

Companies can unexpectedly suffer damage to their reputation, such as the recent hit to its image that Volkswagen A.G. took due to its emissions cheating scandal, said Ms. Soulodre, the Singapore-based managing partner of RL Expert Group, a Hong Kong-based reputation risk management consulting firm. The key to getting through it is developing a sound strategy for communicating with the public and addressing the problems, she said.

Speaking at the Pan-Asia Risk and Insurance Management Association's annual conference in Singapore Tuesday, Ms. Soulodre said that most companies make the mistake of leaving reputational risk management to the communications department. Unfortunately, it is usually ill-equipped to handle a crisis when an organization's reputation is at stake, she said.

“Risk communication needs to start when outrage is low and the issue is emerging,” Ms. Soulodre said. At that point the first step is to clearly identify the problem, and then develop a response strategy that includes input from the C-suite, the communications department and the risk manager, she said.

Paul Clarke, global head of change, risk and compliance for Platts, a division of McGraw Hill Financial Inc. that publishes market data and analysis publications, said the company's senior leadership should make decisions and be the face of the company when communicating to the public.

The risk management department should be in charge of developing and planning risk management communication to get the company ready should something happen, he said.

“But it should be the senior leadership that is front and center making decisions, because ultimately, if it's a particularly bad problem, they are betting the company and if they get it wrong: no more company,” he said. “The risk management department should be leading the charge but in the actual moment they should be there to support the executive leadership.”