In April 1959, President John F Kennedy said: “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.”
While the accuracy of this translation has been disputed, Kennedy’s point is not.
It takes years of investment, time and effort to build a positive reputation, but mere minutes to tarnish it.
However, history has shown that a reputation can be maintained and even enhanced by how an organisation or individual responds to a crisis.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was criticised after her government scrapped plans to address an affordable housing crisis after missing its initial targets.
But she earned worldwide praise for her response to the recent appalling attacks on two mosques, where 50 people died.
She quickly condemned the killings and visited members of the local Muslim and refugee communities the following day, wearing a black headscarf. She promised to reform gun laws, pledged financial support for the funerals of the victims, and told the New Zealand Parliament she will never mention the gunman’s name, denying him the notoriety he wanted.
Footage showing Jacinda embracing and comforting mourners was screened around the world, prompting global acclaim and respect. Out of an extreme crisis, a politician’s reputation has been enhanced.
Had she not responded so swiftly, and with such empathy, the media may have taken a more negative approach, challenging New Zealand’s leadership on issues around security and gun laws.
It’s very hard to challenge, with credibility, someone who has already won so many hearts and minds. Any journalist who did is likely to damage their own reputation.
Crisis communications is all about winning hearts and minds.
A rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers injured 16 people, two of whom had to undergo amputations.
The Chief Executive of Merlin Entertainments, Nick Varney, immediately attended, quickly admitting liability, promising compensation and ensuring that the victims were the top priority.
His visible, genuine, distress helped him to win hearts and minds.
These are extreme examples. But the point remains; how you respond to a crisis can have an impact just as big, if not bigger, on your reputation than the crisis itself.
Empica PR has been managing crises and potential threats to reputations for many years, from critical reports from regulatory bodies to allegations of criminal activities.
We can help organisations prepare for, respond to, and recover from, a crisis in a way that will ensure people remember them for the positive way in which they responded.
Don’t wait for a reputational threat to emerge, take the opportunity to prepare so that you are able to win hearts and minds.