Reputational Risk in an Uncertain World

What are the reputational risks in this fast-paced world and how can organisations prepare for the worst when crisis hits?

Reputation is a major challenge for all types of organisations. Recent cases in the media demonstrate the importance of this – Lucy Letby and the NHS, the NatWest Scandal with Alison Rose and Nigel Farage, Peter Higgs and the British Museum. Negative events can harm the public perception of a company and individuals involved, and the consequences can be severe.

At an event hosted by the University of Bristol Business School on Wednesday these issues were explored. Dean Veronica Hope-Hailey was joined by Professor Will Harvey, branding and reputation expert Sara Bennison, and contentious reputation lawyer Persephone Bridgman Baker, along with Business School academics and other industry guests.

Here are our top 5 takeaways:

1) Be prepared!
Threats to reputation can come up suddenly and unexpectedly but in the social media savvy world, a rapid response is expected. The way that organisations can protect against this is by identifying potential reputational risk scenarios before they happen, playing them out and preparing proportionate responses as well as spokespeople in advance of a crisis.

2) Sorry seems to be the hardest word…
A reluctance or delay in apologising can stir up a media storm and increase bad feeling among the public. Firms or individuals may be wary of apologising in case it makes them liable, but saying sorry can be powerful. A carefully worded apology with input from legal support is better coming sooner rather than later.

3) Walk the talk
People hate hypocrisy, and if a company or person claims to be one thing publicly whilst doing something else in the background, this can put you at the centre of a reputation crisis. Acting in accordance with your core company values and avoiding overpromising helps prevent this.

4) Regulation, Regulation, Regulation
Be best friends with your regulating authority, and make sure all processes and operations are done by the book. Not only does this help prevent mistakes, it can also dampen media interest in a story if there’s nothing to hide.

5) Escape the echo chamber
When responding to a crisis, it’s easy for senior teams to get caught up in their own rhetoric and opinions. Having a diverse team will provide different viewpoints and enable you to sense check, as will bringing in your non-executive board or trustees.

Find out more about Dean Veronica Hope Hailey’s research on trust and leadership through crisis in our podcast series: Responsible Business: Leading the Way.

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