Your 10-Step Risk Assessment to Better Protect Brand Reputation Pre-Crisis

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By Kristin Williamson Swenson, CEO & Chief Communications Strategist at Positioned

The best brand crisis is the one we never heard about.

As PR pros, we’ve all seen, or helped our clients navigate, the disasters where a once-thriving personal or business brand loses all its credibility and viability because a misstep or undesirable event landed it in a full-blown reputation crisis.

What if we could stop a crisis before it happens?

The truth is, most PR crises can not only be prevented, but even better, they can present an opportunity for the brand to show its commitment to living its values and strengthen relationships with people that matter most. And this is where PR pros can have a seat at the big table by helping our clients build Everlasting Brands that stand the tests of time, adversity, and even failures by identifying and eliminating reputation risks early.

Why is this more important than ever? Because today’s environment includes more risks than ever before. Consumers are holding brands accountable for more than just the satisfaction of their products and safe operations. Brands are judged on their actions around social responsibility, values-driven leadership, and healthy internal cultures.

The truth is, most PR crises can not only be prevented, but even better, they can present an opportunity for the brand to show its commitment to living its values and strengthen relationships with people that matter most.

So how do we identify those risks and stop them? It starts by measuring operations, policies, and behaviors against the brand’s professed values. By practicing regular risk assessment and anticipating what is and could go wrong in all business areas, developing plans to mitigate, and openly communicating should an issue arise will limit reputation liabilities and impact business operations.

I know what you’re thinking. You and your clients have your hands full with the opportunities and fires in front of you right now, and investing significant time into such activities seems risky in itself. I hear you. But the risk of not doing this will result in much more than just negative press coverage and social media backlash when a crisis inevitably strikes.

The risk is long-term and irreparable damages; losing brand collaborations, increased financial liabilities, disrupted operations, a damaged internal culture, loss of sales, and plummeting investor confidence. And ultimately, a giant mess for you to clear up publicly.

As a PR pro, you are the only person who can encourage and orchestrate this exercise because you know the brand’s ins and outs. You are an expert on public perception and expectations, and you’ve seen what can happen when these issues are left to be uncovered publicly. To be successful in this role, you’ll need the confidence to deliver assessments of undesirable risks and outcomes, understand the business, so you know what to look for during an audit, and have the ability to anticipate what could go wrong. 

So how do you start pre crisis prep? Here are 10 steps to kick-off the process of identifying and mitigating risks.

  1. Rally the C-Suite and other leaders for buy-in to communicate the importance internally to increase cooperation and transparency.
  2. Advocate for establishing an internal culture where employees can raise risk concerns without fear of backlash so more diverse perspectives and timely issues can be considered.
  3. Gather a group of cross-departmental leaders to help you identify risks in their department and products so subject matter experts contribute insights you won’t find working solo.
  4. Ask for resources such as time and the information access needed so you can get the job done thoroughly and successfully.
  5. Identify possible risks that internal and external factors can trigger and monitor online conversations and customer service records for weaknesses.
  6. Assess the likelihood that they’ll happen and rank each crisis to prioritize which risks to tackle first.
  7. Take steps to correct preventable issues so you can mitigate those risks.
  8. Identify audiences most affected by each crisis and develop preemptive messaging to address their concerns and limit impact.
  9. Craft a communication plan and stakeholder outreach strategy for each likely or possible risk that can be quickly activated when a crisis strikes.
  10. Regularly reassess your plan to account for new issues that arise, so you are always one step ahead.

Following this process allows you to be the mirror your clients need so they can value-check their organization, and create a truly unshakable brand. More than that, when disaster strikes, you and your client will be able to react quickly and quietly, keeping the conversation out of the spotlight. If you’re lucky, you’ll find these weaknesses in advance and neutralize the disaster before it strikes. 

About Kristin

Kristin Williamson Swenson, founder of Positioned, is the builder and protector of purpose-driven brands and reputation advisor to high-profile executives, entrepreneurs, and teams. 

Kristin has 15+ years of experience building personal brands, directing marketing and PR for $0 to $320M projects, and leading reputation and communication strategies ranging from high-profile political campaigns to brand PR crises.

Connect with her at kristin@thepositionedbrand.com or @positionedbrand.

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