Build your Brand with Corporate PR
American entrepreneur Warren Buffett once said: ‘It takes 20-years to build a reputation and five-minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.’ How true this is. Especially in the digital age, where corporate reputations can be ruined with a single tweet.
This is exactly what happened to American fashion designer Kenneth Cole, who made a huge corporate PR faux pas during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. As the protests escalated, Cole Tweeted: ‘Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.’
His insensitive Tweet incurred the wrath of the public and media, who accused him of making light of the tense situation. Cole went on to Tweet an apology, but the damage was done. He was lambasted in the press and customers boycotted the brand.
This is a prime example of what Buffett was talking about. And it’s one of the many reasons why corporate PR is a necessity rather than a luxury.
What is corporate PR?
So let’s look at the definition of corporate public relations.
The aim of corporate PR is to generate positive publicity for your brand, avoid PR crises and protect your most valuable asset: your reputation. It can also improve your relationship with your stakeholders, get more eyeballs on your brand and importantly, boost your bottom line.
In short, a solid corporate public relations strategy can help you achieve all your business goals.
Where to start?
There are various facets to corporate public relations. Here’s what you need to know:
One of the key functions of corporate public relations is crisis management.
Sadly, no business is immune from a PR crisis. From data breaches, to faulty products and internal scandals, they come in all shapes and sizes and have the potential to cause serious reputational damage.
Crisis management is about limiting the damage.
This is exactly what Sir Richard Branson did in the wake of the Virgin Galactic disaster.
Crisis comms done right: Virgin Galactic
In October 2014, Richard Branson’s Virgin Group suffered a huge corporate PR disaster, when their Galactic spaceship crashed in the Mojave Desert, resulting in the death of one of the test pilots.
The brand’s space tourism venture looked to be in jeopardy, but Branson and his PR team swung into action with their crisis management plan. Not content with issuing statements from behind a desk, Branson was on a plane heading to the crash site within hours of hearing the news. He headed straight to a televised press conference and fronted the response, which enabled him to control the story. He also used his blog and Twitter feed to share his personal thoughts on the tragedy.
An expert in crisis communications, Branson swerved a full-blown corporate PR disaster with his quick response and authentic approach. He also succeeded in reinforcing his position as an empathetic, credible spokesperson and leader of the Virgin empire.
The PR lesson: In times of crisis, businesses need strong leaders who can communicate confidently yet compassionately in the glare of the media spotlight. That’s exactly what Virgin has in Sir Richard Branson.
Do you have a nominated crisis spokesperson? Read: How to Choose the Right Spokesperson in a Crisis.
Preparing for a corporate PR disaster
A PR crisis can hit at any time, so you need to be prepared. Do this by:
1. Establishing a command structure
Decide who will lead the crisis team and make them the sole spokesperson. Anyone who’s not authorised to comment should direct questions to the spokesperson. This will help control the flow of communication, which is crucial during a crisis.
2. Taking responsibility
If you’ve reached crisis point, don’t try to cover it up. You’ll make everything worse. Be proactive. React straight away with a statement explaining what’s happened and what your organisation is doing to put it right. Saying ‘you’ll look into it’ or saying nothing at all won’t cut the mustard.
3. Getting social
Your business might not be active on social media, but your customers are. If they’re angry, they’ll shout about it from the virtual rooftops. Your social media team needs to have a plan in place for dealing with the online fallout.
4. Keeping your stakeholders in the loop
You don’t want your stakeholders hearing about the crisis in a newspaper. They need to be in the know.
Be honest, concise, and empathetic in your communications with them. Explain what went wrong, show concern for them, and commit to addressing the situation. Be sure to talk in facts, not conjecture.
Your priority should be preserving the relationships you’ve built with employees, external stakeholders and the media through the crisis.
Want to know more about crisis comms? Read: Crisis Management in Public Relations.
Stakeholder management is another important aspect of corporate PR. A stakeholder is any individual or group that’s invested in your business. This includes employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, communities and the government.
Different stakeholders have different interests. Some are more directly affected by the success or failure of your business than others. Some have stronger opinions than others. Your job is to keep them all happy and this is where stakeholder management comes in. The aim is to maintain good relationships with your stakeholders across the board and manage their expectations.
Stakeholder management done right: Kellogg’s
Stakeholder engagement is a key priority for cereal manufacturer Kellogg’s. Considering their cereals are manufactured in 18 countries and sold in more than 180, the company has a lot of stakeholders to manage.
To demonstrate its commitment, Kellogg’s regularly consults with stakeholders to determine its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. A priority is childhood nutrition, so Kellogg’s set up school breakfast clubs in 1998, to ensure every child in the UK starts the day with a healthy breakfast.
With the help of cash grants, donations of food, equipment and training for school staff, the brand has enabled over 2,500 school breakfast clubs to open their doors in the UK alone.
The initiative has won Kellogg’s lots of glowing PR coverage and endorsements on social media from grateful parents and teachers.
The PR Lesson: Look after your stakeholders, as they’re an important part of your PR strategy. As well as communicating regularly and effectively with them, make them feel special by inviting them to exclusive events or giving them free product samples. Gestures like this will be appreciated, so be sure to work them into your stakeholder management plan.
The happier they are, the more people they’ll tell. And word-of-mouth endorsements are the best sort of PR you can get.
Creating a stakeholder management plan
Benjamin Franklin famously said: ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.’ This is as true for stakeholder management as any other aspect of your business.
Diagramming brand Creately produced an Easy Guide to Stakeholder Management, which has all the tools you need to create a comprehensive stakeholder management plan.
To give you a flavour, the key things you need to do are:
1. Identify and analyse
Make a list of your stakeholders. Mark them as internal or external and categorise them in terms of their involvement in your business. This will help you decide how to manage your relationships with them.
2. Determine the method and frequency of your comms
How are you going to communicate with your stakeholders? By email? Video call? Face-to-face meetings? And how often are you going to contact them? Daily? Weekly? Monthly?
Once you’ve decided, schedule the comms and plan the content. Think carefully, as every stakeholder matters.
3. Monitor the plan
Once you’ve set the plan into motion, monitor it. If you get a whiff of dissention amongst stakeholders, review the plan and take action.
The last thing to bear in mind when putting any corporate public relations strategy in place is how you communicate with your employees. As key stakeholders in your business, they shouldn’t be an afterthought.
This is the realm of internal comms.
What is internal comms?
Internal communications (IC) is a branch of PR that deals with communication within an organisation. The job of the IC team is to make sure that all comms from the top down are timely, accurate, informative, and engaging. It’s also about making sure everyone is singing from the same proverbial hymn sheet.
Internal comms fail: HMV
One company that failed to do this is entertainment brand HMV. The company suffered a major internal comms fail back in 2013 for not communicating effectively with staff ahead of a company restructure.
To cut costs, the brand had to lay off 190 employees. But rather than speak to them individually, they rounded up all staff and gave them the bad news as a group, with little explanation. The result? A social media meltdown. Staff took over the company’s Twitter account to express their anger and shock: ‘Mass execution of loyal employees who love the brand. We had no idea it was coming.’
The tweets were visible to the company’s 60,000+ followers for 20-minutes, before a senior manager realised what was happening and shut the account down. But it was long enough for HMV to garner global headlines for its lack of foresight and poor communication.
The PR lesson: It’s crucial to maintain an honest and ongoing dialogue with employees as they’re your most important brand ambassadors. And in our digitally-driven world, they’re more important today than ever.
How you communicate with them will dictate their relationship with you. Get it right, and you’ll see increased staff loyalty, higher employee retention and streamlined communication with internal and external stakeholders.
Rules of internal comms
Considering your employees are your most valuable asset, it’s worth going the extra mile for them.
Here’s how to ensure your employees stay happy, informed and motivated.
1. Have an open door policy
Good internal communication is about listening, as well as talking. Encourage an open door policy for all managers so team members feel able to approach them. Or consider having everyone in senior positions sitting in an open plan environment and use offices for meetings only.
An open door policy reduces barriers and office politics and helps employees realise that their opinions and thoughts matter.
2. Make comms two-way
The days of top-down communications are long gone. Internal communication is not about sending out information to employees. It’s about communicating with them, having a good understanding of their expectations, and making sure their opinions are heard.
3. Ask team members for their input
A great thing about internal communications is you have a captive audience to poll, question and survey at any given moment. Whether it’s a formal company-wide survey or an informal lunch discussion, you have a built-in focus group to monitor morale and sentiment.
Your employees are invested in your company, so their opinions and ideas are important.
4. Be transparent
Be open and honest with your employees. Don’t be caught out ‘withholding’ information or keeping them in the dark. It could lead to a PR disaster.
Further reading: What is Internal Communication in Public Relations.
The importance of corporate public relations
In an age where business reputations are hard won and easily damaged, corporate public relations will ensure your business thrives, and your reputation remains intact.