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'It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it'

UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s problems this week reminds everyone in business to be prepared for the unexpected, writes Jason O’Sullivan who has tips on what makes a good crisis management plan.

Jason O'Sullivan Solicitor

THE HEADLINE THAT dominated the newspapers in the UK this week made bizarre and distasteful allegations against British Prime Minister David Cameron, during his university days at Oxford.

If anything, it illustrates how quickly ones good reputation can be ridiculed and tarnished online. Within hours of the story breaking, it had dominated social media, trended on Twitter and is still making the headlines.

Be prepared 

It’s far too early to even speculate what long term damage; if any, such allegations will have on Cameron’s political career, but one thing is for sure – it aptly demonstrates the necessity for good crisis management at such perilous reputational times.

The term crisis management is used to describe the processes and procedures devised to mitigate against potential or actual reputational damage caused by a crisis situation or event that is subsequently reported in the media.

Such strategic know-how and tactics are deployed quite frequently for organisations, who might face such crises that risk irreparable damage to their brand, products or stakeholder’s loyalty and confidence.

shutterstock_283014356 Source: Shutterstock/360b

However, as is evident from this week’s allegations about Cameron, such reputational crisis can also affect an individual’s brand, no matter how well known or powerful they may be.

The quote from Billionaire investor Warren Buffett encapsulates such dangers:

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

What makes a good Crisis Management plan?

Downing Street’s initial statement on Monday said they did “not recognise” the allegations, made by Lord Ashcroft, in his unauthorised biography of the Prime Minister.

That response alone was not strong enough and was later followed up with a separate statement from the Conservative Party that vehemently denied the allegations and discredited the author’s motives.

One would expect more crafted and measured responses over the coming days, but the question remains, what makes a good crisis management plan?

Every situation or incident varies greatly, but I’ve listed below some common fundamental procedures, which need to be acted upon immediately following a crisis, whether they be devised strategically for an organisation or private individual.

1. Verify the nature of the crisis situation

Establish what has happened and where it has happened, this will enable the gathering of information to determine ones position in response to the crisis.

2. Prepare an initial statement and develop key messages

These should be consistent and outline if possible, the position being adopted in response to the crisis. Furthermore, a ‘holding statement’ may need to be issued first to the media if required, to bide valuable time for a more definite and reasoned response.

3. Coordination between communications and legal

Depending on the nature of the crisis, some communications may need to be curtailed due to legal constraints. For example a legal matter before the courts, may preclude certain sensitive information being released to the media as to avoid prejudice to that case.

4. Appointing a spokesperson

Those appointed as spokesperson/s on behalf of the organisation or individual, should be media-trained and well versed on the crisis situation, while being duly competent and confident answering difficult questions. A good spokesperson can therefore, add real value in providing clarity to the press, while in turn help restore some reputational credibility.

Jason O’ Sullivan, is a Solicitor and Public Affairs Consultant at J.O.S Solicitors.

Read: Enda Kenny and the Attorney General should resign – political integrity requires nothing less>

Read: Have a problem controlling your anger? Here are tips to keep it in check>

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About the author:

Jason O'Sullivan  / Solicitor

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