Chipotle will survive e. coli just like Jack in the Box did in 1993. But there is a 100% certainty a new threat will demonize some other company and destroy its reputation in the coming year. At the end of next year lists will be made of the biggest PR catastrophes. None of the players yet know they'll be next to dance at gunpoint. But who does the cleanup? There are often three pieces to a crisis management team: the internal team, third-party specialists, and ghost media consultants who work quietly in the background.
Internal Crisis Team
All things pass, and they pass much faster if reputation management strategies and tactics are executed especially well; so long as the company has the strength to weather the inevitable storm. When a big PR problem hits a company, executives should immediately start an internal investigation to solve the problem. Outline a clear set of actions and priorities, do it quickly, and then be seen in the media executing. This sends the immediate "we're on top of it" message, but the effort cannot stop there. Credible third-parties must also be brought to bear on the issue.
Once the internal team has begun their work, successful companies hire the most prominent "fixers" in the field. Companies always want to hire the best, but given the difference between "best" and most "competent and media prominent" we suggest opting for number two if possible. It goes without saying that whatever firm takes care of reputation problems should adhere to ORM best practices. You want them to do a good job, but you also want their reach to be maximized in accordance with the level of social media movement on the story.
For example, if a story is receiving a lot of attention and risk is high, leverage in front of, and "behind the scenes" PR to the hilt. But if a problem is not getting much media attention, execute as described but hold back on aggressive PR. Use more "back channel" services to improve how the problem is perceived. Why? Because an overt PR response could make things worse. Instead, it's important to deliver an appropriately measured response.
If it's a food safety issue, those fixers will be food contamination experts. Oil spills, cyber-crime, and C-suite infidelity all require different third-party consultants, all of whose participation should be leveraged in the media at a level appropriate to the problem. This is to assure the pubic as well as any regulatory agencies that things are moving forward at speed without destabilizing the situation by under, or over responding. Knowing how to gauge the temperature of the water is key to appropriate media response.
Companies should find third-party fixers who are highly competent, likable, and media-savvy. An ill-worded comment from a third-party consultant will be seized upon by the press and will almost always make things worse.
"Ghost" Media Consultants
The company crisis team and third-party consultant are both important in front of the media. But an invisible third team of ghost media consultants can magnify positive actions, especially after a crisis. The GMCs can provide a level of plausible deniability to back-channel marketing, behind-the-scenes relationship building and technical expertise that make mainstream media effective. They watch to make sure the currents just below the surface are managed properly. The ghost media consultant quietly engineers relevance, optimizes engagement with the mainstream narrative, and works behind the scenes using relationships and technical means to sculpt the way the story is portrayed in media. Ghost media consultants are the invisible force that makes PR effective by working behind the curtain to make sure media conduits are efficient and necessary relationships happen. Reputation X can be thought of as a Ghost media consultant. We use special techniques to make content perform well, some of which are discussed in this article.
Leveraging the News Cycle
Another terrorist group will plant a flag somewhere or a politician will get caught with her hand in the cookie jar. People get distracted, then they forget. The news cycle is the engine of both remembrance and forgetfulness.
"The news cycle is the engine of both rememberance and forgetfulness. "
This is what happed when e. coli threatened Jack in the Box all those years ago. Do you even remember that? Maybe not. In the famous book by George Orwell, Animal Farm, there is a quote "Truth to tell, Jones and all he stood for had almost faded out of their memories.". The farmer, Jones, was a cruel taskmaster, but in time the animals began to forget him in favor of current events. The same happens in the world of online reputation. But it takes time, and time costs money, so the job of the crisis management team is not only to get the company through it, but to make the transition as quickly as possible.
When the bottle stops spinning and is pointing toward your company try to remember that. The news about the incident will fade, but the longer it takes to do so the longer a company has to suffer decreased revenues and legal actions. Using the natural rhythm of the news cycle to the company advantage can shorten the cycle and dramatically decrease losses. People have a finite attention span, and unfortunately, bad things happen on a fairly regular basis. Timing information releases in the aftermath of a problem during more dramatic spikes in the cycle can help mitigate negative responses because people are distracted.
How Search Engines Leach Opportunity
A crisis management team is often concerned with what is happening in the moment in the news and social media. The team tends to exist in tandem with the news cycle. But where the news cycle is transient and fickle, branded search results are less so. When something fades from Fox News or CNN, it will often live on for years on the first page of search results becoming a seemingly never-healing wound for brands as it bleeds opportunity and share price over time.
This leach-like effect of search engines can hurt a brand as badly as the original event did. This is where the combined efforts of the internal team and the ghost media consultants can really help once third-party specialists have gone home. By working to organically alter search results the team can in essence "speed up time" by helping search engines realize there are more relevant results than those they are displaying. It is a feat accomplished by technical prowess, cross-platform media distribution, social engineering, quiet relationship building, and aggressive content marketing.
This is what Reputation X does.