Crisis Communications and Reputation Management

Preparation is the key to successfully navigating reputation and crisis management with public relations — following a plan is easier than creating a plan in the moment.

Why Do Crisis Communications and Reputation Management Matter?

The entire world is not within your control — whether external or internal, there are forces beyond your influence that may create challenges for your organization. When crisis situations arise, you need to have a plan of how to respond or you will be scrambling only to start from a deficit. Consider this: Between 2014 and 2019, 74% of companies that faced a major crisis sought outside help either during or after the situation. During that same stretch, 69% of all corporate leaders experienced at least one crisis, though the overall average was three.

And if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that you never know what your crisis plan will help you weather: 62% of companies used a crisis plan to navigate the pandemic.

The prevalence of these challenges throws into sharp relief the fact that it is less a question of if your organization needs a crisis communication and reputation management strategy and more a question of when it will be needed. Legendary business leader Warren Buffet captured the argument for planning sooner than later perfectly:

Our Approach

CSG operates from the understanding of one universal truth: Every organization will have to manage a crisis at some point. It will happen. The degree will vary, but it will happen. Crisis communication planning is an investment in planning for the worst so your company ends up with the best outcome. In a PR crisis, time is everything. A quick initial response often sets the tone for the entire process. Acting hastily without a plan can intensify the situation, while responding appropriately and rationally based on an existing crisis management plan can set a course for success.

To that end, CSG helps organizations develop comprehensive reputation management and crisis communication strategies that cover everything from identifying the people who need to be on the crisis team to frameworks for proactive and reactive scenarios.

Even the most unexpected PR crises feel easier to navigate when you already have a rubric for what to say and do, because the guesswork is gone and the plan is in place.

Crisis communications management isn’t a generic solution. It is a from-the-ground-up initiative that should reflect both the strengths and specific considerations necessary for your leadership and the company at large.


Interested in learning more about how to get from thinking about making a plan to having one in place? Tell us a bit more.


ASCA Association for Student Conduct Administration Logo

Whether crafting targeted messages on unique issues or building measured responses to critical challenges, the CSG team was instrumental in enhancing the internal and external perceptions of our organization.

Jennifer Waller Executive Director, Association for Student Conduct Administration
colorado health op logo

The leadership and staff at CSG are incredibly savvy, creative and dependable partners. I wouldn't want to work with any other firm to launch a campaign or during a crisis. CSG helped us to strategically tailor and time our messages to influence key decision makers and shape public opinion.

Julia Hutchins Former CEO, Colorado HealthOP

CSG has brought world-class clarity and focus to our communications efforts here at New Belgium Brewing over our 10+ year partnership. From new product launches to event support, B2B, and even crisis communications, their team is always ready and more than able to execute at a truly professional level.

Bryan Simpson PR Director, New Belgium Brewing

The Rules of Engagement: Proactive vs. Reactive

People tend to think of crisis communications as a reactive pursuit. Even if you have a plan, it’s only ever launched in response to an event, so it is pure action and reaction, right? You can certainly make that argument, and relatively successfully. However, if we follow Warren Buffet’s advice and think in the context of reputation development as well as management and protection, it’s easier to perceive multiple modes of activity. The strategists at CSG are skilled at developing crisis, reputation and business continuity plans, both proactively and reactively.

Proactive

Advance planning is ideal both for crisis contingencies and for managing your online and offline reputation as a business. This model allows CSG to tap into a 4D Framework designed to comprehensively map your company, leadership and environment. Armed with that knowledge, our team develops a plan that addresses any current and potential challenges and accounts for potential future conditions ranging from natural disaster response to negative reviews and employee or product issues.

Reactive

For those situations where time is of the essence and no plan is yet in place, CSG employs CLEAR, a model designed to facilitate a thoughtful response to unforeseen situations. Ultimately, the CLEAR model helps organizations promote preparedness in times that can lead to rash communications and mistakes that compound problems. CLEAR creates space and a template for key players to assess the situation, assign roles and take appropriate action.

A Crisis Can Originate Anywhere*

*But that doesn’t mean it will. 

Understanding how to approach crisis and reputation management is as much about understanding what not to do or say as what should be done or said. Comprehensive planning takes time. As you plan, take time to understand the scenarios that may result in a crisis, the optics that may accompany that situation and the basics of when and
how to respond.

The experts at CSG can take you through any number of potential scenarios to help round out your crisis response plan and prepare your team. Naturally, the details and “for instances” that emerge are as unique as any business, but there are general themes that can be understood even before engaging with external experts to develop a plan. The following breaks out common sparks for crisis situations, as well as their relationship to your company.

Internal

This category of crisis is often the first one that leaps to mind for leaders. When the crisis starts internally, the scenario often boils down to “someone did something wrong” or “somebody perceived you did something wrong.” These situations may include:

  • Business or product issues
  • Personnel/employee actions
  • Service
  • Organizational/management

External

Perhaps even more daunting to consider, external crises often involve the actions and outcomes of “outside forces that require internal response.” This category of crisis is exceptionally broad and may incorporate the press, partners and even Mother Nature. These situations may include:

General Reputation Management

General reputation management is probably the category least likely to keep leaders up at night. But if not handled properly, these actions too can be a source of crisis — just ask the Cinnamon Toast Crunch social media team. The small tasks that are nonetheless worth due attention and thought in any reputation management plan include: 

  • Fielding everyday customer complaints on social media
  • Responding to online reviews
  • Managing conversations on social channels and escalating those appropriately and as necessary
  • Keeping your online presence accurate and up-to-date

Hope for the Best, Plan for Everything Else

Challenges are unavoidable, but not insurmountable — particularly when you have a solid plan on your side.

Here’s a surprising yet comforting fact: 42% of companies who faced a major crisis from 2014 to 2019 said they were “in a better place,” post-crisis. While those leaders are unlikely to reminisce fondly about the experience they had, it seems the lessons learned along the way prove that it is always possible to emerge stronger and better prepared for what comes next.

For even more on how CSG approaches online reputation management and crisis communications, explore our blog.