Insights · 14th of June, 2024 · 1 minute ·

PEAR: Reputation runs through the core of your pear

Reputation. The core of the PEAR. How you respond to an issue relating to People, the Environment and the Asset all has a long-standing impact on your Reputation, internally and externally.

As the old saying goes, it takes years to build, but can be ruined in the blink of an eye, and before you know it, your world has come crashing around you. It seems far easier to destroy a reputation with the prevalence of social media, ability for fake news to travel faster, and the desire for people to see others fail.

So with the potential for a reputation being ripped from you in an instant, it is vital you respond appropriately to mitigate the impact when things go wrong. You’ll have seen many energy organisations whose values preach about the importance of people and the protection of the environment being critical to their being. How often have they had to prove it to the general public? Probably not very often, and if they have, it’s when many pairs of eyes are on them.

It starts within, and ensuring your people feel valued and informed. If you succeed at that, they are far more likely to appreciate the situation you and your company are in and therefore respond accordingly. If they don’t you could be in trouble.

For example, if people find out the latest news – regardless of whether it’s related to a crisis or not – from the media instead of management, there is the potential for them to turn against you. Do they feel valued and are you trusted by them? Is there a them and us vibe, or do they feel part of the team?

I’ve heard of an exercise that took place within an organisation during which reception received a phone call from the media asking about the incident. It transpired an employee had walked past the room where the exercise was being conducted, overheard the situation and called a journalist.

We don’t know how others will react to a negative situation, and what their motivations may be, but we need to remain cautious and focused. The point is, leaks happen. They always have and they always will. Are there Traitors among your teams, or are they all Faithfuls?

It has made me think. What does the word internal in internal communications mean? Is it everyone with the same domain following the @ in their email address? Or is it everyone in the room that’s involved in the crisis situation?

As soon as information leaves that room, the chances of it becoming public knowledge increase monumentally. While I am not saying you shouldn’t trust your employees, I am saying that you should be careful what you tell them.

Remember citizen journalism that I spoke about previously? Well, regardless of how well your organisation is run, it can – and does – start from the inside. Only give people information you are comfortable with appearing in the media or online.

I would always advise that while preparing statements for media, the core of the same statement is used for staff too, but just with the language being a bit more cuddly, because who doesn’t love a cuddle?

There will be situations you find yourselves in where you have already lost – all you can do is get the messaging correct. With environmental issues being at the top of many news agendas, you are not going to be able to avoid talking about it. And don’t even think about saying “no comment”, that just screams guilt. Say something without saying something. Take a beat and think of the five Cs, ensuring you are Clear, Concise, Confident, Compassionate, Credible.

How you respond to any sort of incident will be your legacy. It is easy for organisations become synonymous with bad news – just look at Exxon Mobil and BP. After the Exxon Valdez disaster for example, Exxon entered into several lawsuits in an effort to reduce the financial penalties it was faced with, including blaming the state of Alaska for not allowing it to use dispersant to stop the spill. That was followed by BP being quick – while accepting responsibility – to state the accident wasn’t theirs because the Deepwater Horizon rig belonged to Transocean.

The approaches by both companies, which also include BP asking fishermen to sign a waiver saying they wouldn’t sue the company and Exxon attempting to excuse themselves from blame, did nothing to enhance – or even protect – their reputation at a critical time.

Companies also need to remember who they are speaking to. While there is a place for “PR language” and terms such as someone leaving a firm because they “want to spend more time with their family”, there is also a place at the top of the table for talking in simple language.

Whether you are with a financial institution, an energy organisation or working in the public sector, you will have people who love nothing more than talking in technical language. Stop them!

And if you can’t stop them, translate what they are saying into language that Bob and Betty will understand. Don’t let the engineers, or heaven forbid lawyers, loose on statements. There is a place for both of them, and they absolutely need to be part of the team. But engineers will want to tell stories in the most convoluted way possible, while lawyers won’t want to say anything at all.

The job of a communicator is to be clear and concise, not confuse. We are translators and filters that guide the technical and legal experts on what to say and how to say it. We are there to tell stories in the strongest terms of certainty.

How those stories are told will also impact the legacy for you and your company. Communcations experts have to be involved in every decision that are made. We think differently. We see things technical gurus don’t and have the ability, combined with the tech geeks, to ensure the message is correct and reputation is protected.

Remember PEAR. People. Environment. Asset. Reputation.

Prepare. It will happen. And you will be judged on how you respond to it. As well as that, get the right people prepared. If you have people on your response teams whose immediate inclination is to panic, perhaps they’re not suited for the role. Pause before you respond. Tony Hayward didn’t when he said he just wanted his life back, and now he appears as an example in media training sessions and conference speeches on a regular basis. He's human. He was under pressure. But as humans it is when we are under pressure that we present the worst version of ourselves. You cannot allow people to go into these sorts of situations cold. And I hate to say it, in my experience, it’s quite often those in the higher-up positions that are least-prepared. They need to…

Exercise. If you don’t stress test your plan, how will you know it works? Regardless of how big or small your organisation is, you will experience an incident that will necessitate the appropriate management. Exercises are your time to make mistakes and learn from them.

Assess. Exercises, incidents and potential scenarios. What worked well? What didn’t work well? What could go wrong? Always be looking to improve.

You should also assess the media landscape and look at what people are saying. Are there stories out there you should respond to? Stay ahead of the story as much as possible and gauge the sentiment of the situation. And finally, as Frankie said,

Relax. Shit happens. It’s how you respond to it that counts. Words matter, stories matter, people matter, reactions matter. Messaging matters. No Matter What.

Insights · 14th of June, 2024 · 1 minute ·