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Once Bitten, Twice Shy – Reputational Risk Management Should Be Proactive, But Isn’t

Guest Post By Matt Russell

At the 2017 PRSA St. Louis Professional Development Event, experts from diverse industries showcased how their teams tackled everything from bomb scares to hostile internet ‘badvocates.’ But the question everyone really wanted answered was "How can I prevent these things from happening in the first place?" Judging by the research performed by Standing Partnership, even asking that question isn’t commonplace until after their reputation has suffered.

“47 percent of organizations do not take steps to manage reputational risk,” explained Mihaela Grad, VP with Standing Partnership. After a crisis happens, that number changes to greater than 70 percent. With the immediate cost of a reputational issue ranging from $100,000 - $500,000, it’s no surprise that your clients may suddenly find resources to avoid another crisis after they’ve dealt with one first hand.

But if you want to stay ahead of crises and nip them in the bud when they’re small, you’ll have to convince your clients and stakeholders that the investment of resources is well worth it. This can be difficult when 79 percent of CEOs believe that their firm is doing an ‘above-average’ job of reputation management. Your better bet may be with the COO, or similar operations manager. Their interaction with the nuts and bolts of the business make them more likely to understand active monitoring of reputational risk, as they interact with the complexity of their business more often.

Once you have the green light, you should accept or assign responsibility for risk management within your organization. Including diverse perspectives will help to identify diverse risks, so maintain a cross-functional approach. With your team, perform an audit for reputational risks. Some businesses choose to identify risks by likelihood, and then order them by unpreparedness to highlight where they should start working first. Creating a culture of reputational management includes creating policies that support the communication of risks up the chain at the earliest opportunity, so it is important that your stakeholders know who to talk to and how to communicate with them.

With many programs, resources can be a limiting factor, but Grad explained that every organization should consider their risk management seriously. “Even in a one-person company, understanding the risks to your brand can be as simple as researching the risks to your industry as a whole and planning what you would do in those scenarios.” As with all things in PR, a little preparation can go a long way.

Matt Russell is the Heartland Regional Director of Public Affairs for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). He holds a master’s degree in marketing from Webster University. Before becoming a civilian, he was a Pashto Linguist with the United States Air Force.

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