Marketers of today are facing greater challenges to build brands in times when consumers tend to base their purchasing decisions primarily on brand reputation. 

We’ve exclusively interviewed Dina Al Beheary , Public Relations Manager of Egypt’s Landmark Sabbour, to shed some lights on how brands can navigate crises in the digital age. 

BB: Reputation is considered one of the brand’s most valuable assets. One of the core areas where brands and PR cross paths is reputation management. How can corporate communications professionals help brands build a solid and credible reputation?

DAB: Reputation is one of the most important intangible assets that a company has to build and invest on to gain a solid and credible reputation for the company.

Companies that consistently meet the needs and interests of their various stakeholders build a concrete reputation and lower reputational risks, which gives strong leverage to any new brands they develop over time. Corporate communication professionals are aware hence that reputation has a financial impact on the business and its operations and they use several tactics and strategies to create an image for the company and its brands, position that image and maintain it.

Dina Al Beheary – Landmark Sabbour

BB: Many brands are faced with crises that can give a hard blow to their reputation. Effectively managing crises when they arise can become a make it or break it to any brand. Can you give us some insights on what are the pillars of an effective crisis management strategy?

DAB: Every communication professional working in a company knows that a crisis management strategy has to be developed since every business is likely to go through a crisis at one point. All companies need crisis management plans in place, however the larger the size of company, the more urgent is the need for this strategy to be in place.

Crisis management plans help companies navigate crises as they occur wisely and swiftly without suffering reputational damage. The first place to start when developing such a plan, is reviewing all crises that similar companies or industries went through locally and worldwide, and lessons learned, as there will be good examples of crisis management and bad examples.

So the best planning uses types of crises that the business might face and how to manage them. Any good plan would advocate being proactive, being transparent and being accountable when a crisis happens. It is also important for any plan to identify the response team that will be involved once a crisis occurs, and for the PR manager to prepare key media/public messages in coordination with the response team involved, to synchronize the response of the whole team managing the crises.

BB: The digital transformation age has given reputation and crisis management a whole new dimension. Reputations can be affected negatively with one single social media post. In a nutshell, what are the dos and don’ts when handling virally blasted crisis?

DAB: Social media has certainly changed how communication between business and their various stakeholders occur. Social media posts are quickly shared, consumers now have a free and widely used multiple digital platforms to voice their concerns, dissatisfaction, or even post positive reviews.

This has called the need for social media plans to be developed by every business, which offers guidelines on how best to communicate with the general public on social media sites, and these guidelines should also include dealing with the public during crises to mitigate the impact of viral posts during small or big crises.

The best thing for any company during a social media crises is to maintain authenticity, credibility, and accountability. If a company commits an error it should issue a public apology outlining the steps it is taking to correct the mistake. During a potential crisis or an occurring crises companies should never be on the defensive side, or simply ignore it hoping it will eventually stop, rather they should step up and demonstrate that they have their clients best interests at heart.

One of the most important things that social media offered companies is giving them a human face, and offering them a human voice and an opportunity to engage with consumers, so companies should capitalize on that well.

BB: Brands work in different cultural contexts. Does cultural differences affect crisis management?

DAB: Cultural difference certainly changes the way business communicate with consumers from different cultures. Culture is really the shares values, norms, meanings, sentiments and beliefs of a particular group of people. Hence good and well informed knowledge of local culture is vital when navigating a crises, including key messages used and choice of wording, and best response to the crisis.

BB: In your opinion, and from Landmark Sabbour’s strategy manual, how can brands convert brand crises into PR wins ?

DAB: Brand crises can easily become communication wins, because during a crisis a business demonstrates its human face, engages with the media and the public and has the opportunity to show that it has the best interests of its clients at heart. Many business has converted their small and big crises as communication wins.

For example hotels that upgrade the room of their unhappy clients to suites free of charge to compensate them, or airlines that compensate their customers with free tickets to compensate for a bad inflight experience. Hence it is really about the compensations that businesses offer as to win back their clients or maintain their reputation altogether.

These small acts of generosity during a crises of any scale, is very powerful in winning back clients, and gaining new clients, and are also important way to circulate to the public how the company has reacted to its clients grievances.