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Reputation crisis: letting sleeping dogs lie and respectful conduct

Sometimes organisations face an impending reputation crisis,  which immediately raises the question: should we take the proactive or reactive approach? Should we show spirit or let sleeping dogs lie?

Of course, the first thing you want to know is whether the organization has been careless, or, in case of recurrence, even negligent. Sometimes the crisis is the work of a vengeful ‘pyromaniac’ deliberately trying to start a fire and damage the organization by throwing allegations. But how often isn’t the cause a human error that can be prevented in future by just a few measures?

There are plenty of strategies to inform your stakeholders and protect your reputation. And there is always the question how to keep things controllable and how to prevent unnecessary damage.

Offering reactive explanations in the media has become a rather tricky strategy. First you might ask yourself: who are they, ‘the media’? Who do they reach, and are they my target group? The next question you should ask yourself is what you will achieve by employing this strategy, what your goals are. Although I am generally in favour of rendering account publicly, I know too many organizations who, despite their good intentions, have found themselves slaughtered in the media, simply because they did not get the opportunity to tell their story in a nuanced manner.

Therefore, I sometimes ask myself the question: should we continue communicating through the media, hoping to reach our stakeholders there and explain to them what is really happening, how it could have happened and what we are doing about it?

And yes, I have once put an administrator on one of the best-viewed and most critical late night talkshows to tell his side of the story as merely choosing that environment says something about your intentions, I believe. However, this remains a tricky strategy. That has everything to do with the level of understanding of the viewers, their prejudices and the growing suspicion of executives and top-ranking administrators in almost every segment of society.

But what if I, as a reputation manager, knew my stakeholders, and they knew me? What if both the inner circle and the circle around it, people I depend on too in a certain way, had already been talking to me on a regular basis, about themes that are relevant to my client organizations and to my stakeholders as well? And what if I involved them by asking for their opinions and ideas?

Wouldn’t that lead to a sustainable and open dialogue? Wouldn't that be fertile ground for proactive information provision on impending crises, nasty court cases, unexpectedly steep falls in stock prices, employee malpractices?

Just imagine being a stakeholder and receiving such a message on your smart phone in good time. Something is going on, details are provided, and you get to respond, give your opinion. Wouldn't that lead to a much more constructive relationship than having to read about it in the papers out of the blue and think to yourself: ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’?

Modern technologies and tools, especially the ones aimed at group dynamics, offer solutions for these situations. They enable me to reach everyone quickly and inform them before, during and after the event, thus respecting my stakeholders and offering them the opportunity to form their opinion before opening the newspaper. Much seems gained this way.

So get yourself a good alarm clock, wake those sleeping dogs, and at the end of the day, you will get much more sleep yourself!

Paul Vermeij – The Oppcompany

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