It is amusing to me that if we could all call upon Olivia Pope from television’s SCANDAL to magically resolve our crises, our reputations could be turned around in a mere 45 minutes. In the absence of that, here’s what experts such as Ed Cafassos’ propose. His article “After the Crisis: Managing the ‘Scandal Attention Cycle,” published in the PR Strategist takes a closer look at the crisis pattern and how PR folks can handle crisis and work towards a positive outcome. But how do organizations get out of negative publicity and overcome a crisis without major brand damage?
There are many similarities across the news coverage of scandals. A scandal rises and peaks pretty fast these days, but few people follow up on what happens to the involved parties afterwards. Brendan Nythan, a political scientist from Dartmouth College, refers to this phenomenon as the “Scandal Attention Cycle.” A major problem is that it often takes a while for the full set of facts to come out. Before that happens, the story has typically become old news and the media is less likely to report about it. This can be good or bad for the involved parties.
How can we as communications specialists rebuild the organization’s image after the negative coverage? Assuming the organization is public, the concern must turn to stockholders. They are the ones who will have paid close attention to the news and will have formed strong impressions and opinions. They are the ones that need to be persuaded that everything is all right. Other important audience segments whose trust is key to rebuild your reputation are employees, analysts, customers, shareholders, partners, and regulators. According to Cafasso, “It is even more important to document and publicize kept promises in the aftermath of scandals that involve more retail-driven sectors, like hospitality and tourism.”
Unfortunately, business that has suffered a crisis in the past is more likely to draw negative media attention in the future. How can these target companies respond to the greater scrutiny? Should they demonstrate change, proactively tell their story, or point out inaccuracy of assumptions? When is the right moment? Will the media care? There is not one universal answer, but organizations with previously strong brand reputations may be in a better position to take the offensive. Today’s varied media environment offers communicators more targeted, “friendlier” options to implement a successful strategic rebuilding plan, as the top media are usually the ones fueling the scandal attention cycle. And again, prioritize the constituents who matter most and start outreach with them.
Summing up, if you have to deal with the aftermath of crisis without the help of Olivia Pope and her excellent team of Gladiators, first measure the damage, communicate frequently and authentically to the audiences closest to your organization, and then focus on building new ground for a successful comeback to get your company back on the track of success.