An outsider’s perspective: why organizations need to consider external expertise in a crisis

Provident_CrisisCommunications.jpg

Businesses are under more public scrutiny than ever before. With social media platforms so ingrained in everyday life, news - both good and bad - spreads rapidly. The most recent and obvious example is the ongoing Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data mining scandal, which has resulted in countless accusatory social media posts and news articles, and has put the company on the defensive when it comes to explaining how users’ privacy and data has been breached. Without knowing the details, it’s still hard to imagine that Facebook was well prepared for the crisis when it hit, based on both the company’s own reaction, and the response from the public.

This is just one example of the need to have a firm crisis plan in place, be proactive in engaging stakeholders, and have a network of resources to help protect corporate reputation when the unknown strikes.

Leveraging external expertise can provide significant value to organizations during times of reputational upheaval, and can often serve to either diffuse the situation or help to rebuild public trust and restore corporate reputation. Here are three core benefits to leveraging an external advisor in times of crisis:

They see things people on the inside don’t notice.

Simply put, an external communications advisor brings a fresh perspective to the table, unhindered by internal bias or pressure. Put another way, external experts are not drinking your kool-aid, which gives their perspective a healthy dose of skepticism. He or she can examine current policies, speak to employees at all levels to get a solid grasp on internal perception, detect holes in internal or external communications, and provide a frank assessment of the existing strategy in place. From there, advisors can provide an objective recommendation on how best to approach the matter, within the organization and externally with media and the public.

They can spur companies into action.

When an organization’s reputation is at risk and criticism is coming from every angle, it can be tempting to recede into the background and try to disappear. This is rarely the right approach - in fact, it can further damage reputation and make companies look culpable, even if there is no malicious intent. An external expert can band together the right people and resources, work with your team to develop an actionable crisis plan, and provide recommendations on how best to implement that plan. This might include identifying the right company spokesperson, crafting core messaging, and releasing a statement or issuing a formal apology, if needed, all in a prompt and timely manner in order to preserve or restore reputation when it’s needed most.  

They dispassionately prepare executives for best and worst case scenarios.

From narrative development to leading mock interviews and providing a refresher on the ever-changing media landscape, a PR advisor is there to help develop and guide executives through the process step-by-step, from how to proactively engage with key stakeholders to how to field even the trickiest media questions. They will ensure you’re prepared to handle the good, the bad and the ugly, while maintaining composure and tact, as well as a no-nonsense approach. While it’s easy to feel confident when everything is working in your favour, lack of preparation (no matter the situation and the public’s perception of your organization) is ill-advised. External expertise will help ensure you are well-equipped to manage any outcome.

More organizations would reap the benefits of enhanced corporate reputation if they engaged with a communications firm or adviser early on - and ideally before a crisis hits - to establish and implement a plan. By doing so, they can often prevent irreparable damage to their reputation, both internally and in the court of public opinion.