We are excited to to invite Rob Hayes, founder and President of Compass Communications LLC, to share his thoughts on our Online Reputation Management blog. Rob managed communications for Florida’s agency that coordinated response to and recovery from the devastating 2004 hurricane season and headed external communications related to state employees for the Office of Governor Pataki during the response and recovery following the attacks of 9-11 and the anthrax attacks in New York State.

What is crisis communications?

It’s funny how we are always trying to fit everything into a definition or elevator speech. To me crisis communications is the act of engaging your risk communications plan. When injury or loss is imminent, occurring or recently occurred all communications are crisis communications.

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

Not being credible in their statements whether it is in acknowledging their own role in the event, acknowledging the true impact on others or when discussing the future impact and how to deal with it. In my time working for Governor Pataki, Governor Bush and while running my business, two of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make time and again are having the wrong person delivering the message and sharing the wrong information. On the first mistake, in a true crisis, a spokesperson is the absolute last person the world should be seeing and hearing. The public or customers need to hear from the leader of the company or the subject matter expert or in a catastrophic situation, the disaster response leader is suitable. Regarding the second mistake, the public or customers must hear that you have a system, a plan and access to the necessary resources to handle the situation and they must feel that you are not holding back on them. Any organization that makes any of these mistakes will face a much more difficult challenge emerging from their crisis.

How important is social media to your reputation management strategy?

Social is such an important part of communication now. At this point, as it relates to crisis communications, I use social for sharing important brief updates and letting folks know when and where they can get more in-depth info.

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

Establish Command and Control. Being accused of not letting folks in your organization talk with the public/media is nothing compared to sharing mixed/inconsistent messages. Next bring all the stakeholders together regularly for operational planning and agreement on the message.

How can CEOs help build and repair corporate reputation?

The method to achieve these goals will vary based upon unique variables of that corporation’s situation. That being said overall you have to show that the corporation has competent conscientious leadership and people. A real world example from my home state is how Mayor Rudy Giuliani took ownership of the condition of New York City when he entered office. He proceed to outline a plan to improve the city, provided regular progress updates and performed by changing for the better the unchangeable city. His and the city government’s reputation had certainly improved dramatically by the time of 9/11 and the benefits of having residents, business owners and tourists trust in the mayor (the CEO) and the city is unmeasurable. This is a model all leaders should aspire to follow when they find themselves in a crisis situation.

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

Know the operational plan, the message and how to communicate with the public. Then stick to the plan and message.

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

Plan, drill, evaluate, update the plan and drill again. Whenever there’s a change in their ‘universe’ or every 6 months they need to rinse and repeat.