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Protecting a good reputation requires advance planning, preparation

Reputation Risk Management

The quality of a company's preparation for and response to a reputation-threatening event typically determines that company's success in minimizing the damage to its brand, reputation risk experts say.

Crisis communication planning and brand management strategies are critically important exercises, but they are truly effective only when incorporated and tested against a company's broader emergency response plans, panelists said last week at Business Insurance's 2013 Risk Management Summit in New York.

“Crisis management does not start at the bottom. It's not a series of individual response plans,” said Larry Walsh, vice chairman of the Alexandria, Va.-based Hawthorn Group L.C. “All of the pieces of your emergency response plan need to be thought of as a corporationwide process, to which all of those individual response plans need to fit.”

Panelists said companies in search of even greater levels of proactive reputation risk management should consider incorporating focus groups and other advance public opinion sampling into their operational decision-making.

“Something I think a lot of companies could benefit from is a sounding board or junior advisory board made up of people who are very active in social media,” said Shannon Wilkinson, founder and CEO of New York-based Reputation Communications Ltd.

“I think risk officers especially would benefit from having a group like that to run by with important corporate decisions,” Ms. Wilkinson said.

When an incident occurs, panelists said companies would do well to remember that brand management and crisis response messaging are not likely to be very effective if visible efforts are not being taken to fix the underlying cause of the incident itself.

“One of the most important things to remember in a crisis situation is that you don't have a PR problem, you've got a business problem, so fix the business problem,” said Chris Gidez, executive vice president and co-chair of the global crisis practice at New York-based Hill+Knowlton Strategies Ltd.

“It's amazing how much better BP (P.L.C.)'s life got the day after they sealed that well and the camera was turned off,” he said.

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