A brief browse of any newspaper or news website will demonstrate that most stories involve either conflict or criticism. Either way, they represent a threat to the reputation of an organisation or individual.
The case in point in today’s papers is of course the situation with Lord Rennard and the Liberal Democrats, but this is far from the only example. Experts from within NHS England have suggested that NHS plans for a national database of patient records could be blocked by EU law, potentially posing a threat to medical research – while privacy campaigners have warned that the same database could result in patients’ confidential information falling into the hands of private companies. In a completely different area of policy, an independent report has roundly criticised the Police Federation and claimed it must “radically change to survive.”
The commonality across these and other stories is the reputational threat they pose.
Any PR consultant or political advisor will tell you that no organisation or individual is ever immune from negative headlines, but that reputational management must involve contingency planning as part of any crisis communications plan. By taking the time to assess the threat and identify the possible ways in which an organisation or individual could be challenged or criticised, public relations consultants establish what difficult questions might be asked, how they should be answered, how an organisation or individual can get their side of the story across, and how the crisis can be mitigated as much as possible.
Some stories are too big not to become crises, but many escalate because of a lack of planning that leads to ambiguous responses, poor interviews by spokespeople and unclear lines of communication. A successful strategy will incorporate this contingency planning and will set out honest and transparent responses by prepared spokespeople to nip a problem in the bud when possible.