Reputation Restoration: Considering Constituents is Crucial after a Disaster

Everyone will make mistakes. It is inevitable. But how individuals or companies choose to react in the face of their mistakes can either make them or break them.

The University of Georgia recently published a study on crisis communicators and the role that they play during a crisis. The study shows that how a crisis communicator, or a public relations practitioner, addresses a crisis plays a role in how the company is viewed once a disastrous situation occurs. How they promptly and competently manage the post-event recovery period shapes constituents’ perceptions of professionalism, resilience, dependability and trust.

To conduct the study, researchers spoke with 20 senior-level crisis communicators from various organizations across the U.S. The communicators all had different levels of experiences, but despite that, they all seemed to agree that companies should be transparent and honest with their constituents during a time of crisis. They also shared that organizations should implement four key strategies to rebuild and repair the damage caused by the crisis: symbolic damage repair, positive framing, future focus and acceptance of crisis messages.

My own research is consistent with these reported findings. I have found that four key strategies, similar to those described in the University of Georgia’s study, are the best strategies for companies to use after a crisis:

  • Corrective action – If any harm has been done, then the key message is that you fully intend to “make things right.” Communicate clearly and explicitly the steps you are taking or shall be taking for correcting any problems that may have arisen. Do not stray away from the messaging by scapegoating or using other blame strategies. Merely focus on what you are doing to fix the problems.
  • Compensation – Be willing to offer compensation. This does not necessarily imply guilt or culpability, but demonstrates that your motives are to make sure that everyone ends up whole as things are recovering.
  • Acceptance – Accept the blame and responsibility when it is appropriate to do so. Messages of denial, evasion or not taking responsibility are less effective at recovering or sustaining your professional image and reputation.
  • Bolstering – Always focus on the positives and benefits. Address your good points and remind of past successes. Talk about achievements and beneficial actions can always be helpful.

With these strategies in mind, my colleagues and I have created a framework – Crisis Relationship Repair Framework (CRRF) – to help crisis communicators save their image and reputation after a crisis. I hope to share more about the CRRF model in the coming months. In fact, there will be a presentation of CRRF and other brand/image/reputation restoration communication models shared at the 5th annual International Crisis and Risk Communication Conference to be held on the UCF Orlando (FL) campus in March 2015. I invite you to learn more about the conference and consider participating.

About the Author: Robert C. Chandler, Ph.D.
Dr. Robert C. Chandler is a Professor of Communication and Director of the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida (UCF) where he leads the Center for Crisis Communication. He is an internationally recognized professional speaker and social scientific researcher with more than 150 academic and professional papers based on his research of crisis communication, leadership, teamwork, decision making, and psychometric variables during emergency and crisis communication.