We kick off the New Year in high gear on our online reputation management blog with an exclusive interview with Allison Dean Love, President of Allison Dean Love Consulting, LLC. Allison has more than 20 years experience in public relations, marketing, media relations and communications, including crisis communications. With more than 8,000 interviews and media relationships worldwide, she conducts media relations and crisis communications training for a variety of clients in insurance, engineering, construction, government and nonprofit organizations.

1. What is crisis communications?

Crisis communications has evolved into brand and reputation management. Building and maintaining trust and confidence with open, transparent communications with internal and external audiences should be on-going processes and consistent goals of organizations. When a sudden crisis occurs, maintaining the reputation, image and credibility of the organization is much easier with a commitment to these goals.

2. What are the biggest mistakes you see people and companies make when dealing with the media?

The biggest mistake I see organizations make regarding the media is not making media relations a priority, including social media relations. Maintaining strong relationships with the traditional media and online platforms is as vital as maintaining strong internal and external relationships with employees, vendors and customers. When a crisis occurs relationships are in place and your organization has established a level of trust and credibility. Waiting to reach out until after a crisis occurs is a mistake.

3. How important is social media to your reputation management strategy?

Reputation management strategy must include social media engagement. Monitoring, listening, acknowledging and responding should be a part of the overall strategy. Timeliness is the key. Social media is yet another mechanism or vehicle for direct information delivery. While the forms of social media may vary, each tool provides another forum for reaching your organization’s audiences. Social media provides your organization with immediate, direct access to reaching audiences without the filters so facts cannot be taken out-of-context.

4. What is the first thing a company should do when there is a PR disaster?

Know your organization’s values, your personal values and be committed to open, honest, transparent communication in advance of a PR disaster. Have detailed, tested and practiced crisis communications plans prepared. Tell the truth fast. Reputations are made or broken in the initial phase of employing your organization’s plans. Be accessible and responsive. Engage your teams, employ the processes prepared and stay ahead of the story. Be first, be right, be credible and be empathetic in responding. Keep in mind the facts will never win over emotion. Explain the situation, take action and keep the lines of communication constantly open.

5. How can CEOs help build and repair corporate reputation?

CEOs should be committed to open, honest communication and empower their communications professionals to lead that effort for their organization. Much of the success in their ability to build trust and project a strong image is based on clearly knowing the values they want to portray as well as having the proper training and practice. Just because a CEO is a great speaker or presenter does not mean he or she is prepared to be on camera in the time of a crisis where the organization’s brand, image, credibility and reputation can be destroyed in seconds. Demonstrating strong leadership through action will build, enhance or repair reputations.

6. What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?

Every employee is a brand ambassador and for that reason companies need to maintain an open dialogue internally as well as externally to arm all employees with timely, accurate information. Companies also need to ensure they have social media policies and designated spokespersons who can speak to the media immediately. Employees can help perpetuate positive or negative messages and should be treated with great respect during and after a crisis. Rather than only focusing on external stakeholders, companies need to remember to arm their best advocates with the latest information.

7. What can companies do to better prepare for a public relations crisis?

Start with a comprehensive risk assessment and consider all potential events based on likelihood and impact. Prepare a crisis communication plan incorporating social media to include all stakeholders and audiences, as well as the processes which should occur. Prepare possible news releases, statements and talking points for each audience, then practice and test the plan using a variety of scenarios. Consider all potential spokespersons and conduct media training. Conduct community relations with all potential partners and vendors. Get to know local, regional and national organizations which may provide aid in the time of a crisis, including government agencies. Define what success means in the time of a crisis for your company. Have the right crisis perspective by looking forward (not backward) to the potential corrective action which could be taken. Balance the legal and PR needs, define and set proper exceptions. Don’t be self-serving, stay positive, but realistic and always remember truth and transparency aren’t optional.