Why Brands Need To Care What Is Being Said About Them

By Jo Trizila, CEO of TrizCom Public Relations and Pitch PR

One of my favorite quotes in PR was said by Warren Buffet: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do it differently.”

Many times the brands whose reputations were destroyed overnight could have minimized the catastrophic events simply by pulling their head out of the sand and dealing with the situation. Of course, communication and planning help too.

In the past 12 months, we have seen a fair share of brands who didn’t handle their crisis very well. Often what began as issues that weren’t attended to blew up into full-scale crisis events. I don’t even have to say why they made this list because we all know why!

  • Uber
  • United Airlines
  • Galaxy Note 7 phones
  • Wells Fargo
  • Pepsi
  • Chipotle
  • Mylan’s EpiPen
  • Bill Cosby
  • Tesla
  • Yahoo!

On June 14, Clutch – a leading software and professional services firm – released an extremely interesting survey, Measuring Brand Perception and the Effect of PR.

Clutch’s key findings:

  • 52 percent of consumers spend the most time using social media, allowing for opinions to change and news to travel quickly
  • Nearly 20 percent of consumers are wary of making high cost purchases from brands with negative press
  • News stories about companies have an impact on the way those brands are perceived by consumers – in fact, 46 percent of consumers who identified United Airlines as a brand with negative press also have a negative perception of that brand 

(Source: Clutch: https://clutch.co/pr-firms/resources/measuring-brand-perception-effect-of-pr)

We all know the media landscape is changing. Back when I was in college, I studied abroad in London, and I felt so disconnected. There were no smartphones. There was really no internet. Email had just started, but I didn’t have an email account. CNN was great, but I couldn’t afford cable. I depended on the student union’s subscription to USA Today to get my news. Fast forward 20 some odd years – we all have smartphones, we all have multiple email accounts, many have tablets, computers, televisions with internet access. We have multiple social media logins; most have cable and many office buildings even have headline news in elevators. Many haven’t read USA Today in years. In fact, subscriptions to print magazines and newspapers are at an all-time low. Simply put, we get our news differently, and more importantly, many of us have turned into spot journalists and post this news on our social channels. For brands, this is terrifying. News travels at lightening speed.

Clutch reports that the most commonly used media outlets today are social media (52 percent), broadcast media (22 percent), digital media (18 percent) and print media (8 percent). When a negative story goes viral, how does this affect consumers’ perception? According to Clutch, when negative news about a particular brand is brought to consumers’ attention, opinions of those brands change.

Think about it: As a consumer, if you had the choice to fly Southwest Airlines or United Airlines, which one would you choose? I haven’t seen a person being dragged off a Southwest Airlines flight recently. If you were taking your children out to eat, would you pick a restaurant that’s in the news for contaminated food? I wouldn’t.

“Perceptions of a brand also feed directly into consumers’ likelihood to purchase that company’s products. The way these opinions change is conducive to many factors, and it even varies between low and high cost purchases,” reports Clutch.

I’ve said this many times and can’t say it enough: public relations is one of the most effective uses of a brand’s budget – period. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Having a plan in place for not only the good news but also the bad is more imperative now than ever. I see, over and over, brands bury one’s head in the sand and ignore or hide from the obvious signs of danger. Brands are afraid to admit they were wrong. They blame the customer for negative reviews. Brands hire interns to run their social media. They ignore online reviews.

But it’s not just reviews. Remember when I mentioned that everyone has a smartphone now? People record what’s happening right in front of them and post the videos online. When the evidence of wrongdoing (even perceived) is right there in living color, it’s difficult to deny.

Reputation and crisis management need to be a top concern for CEOs across the board.

I love what a fellow crisis communication expert and speaker, Andy Gilman, has said, “The secret of crisis management is not good vs. bad, it’s preventing the bad from getting worse.” Bad things are going to happen to every company. Of course, they vary in their magnitude, but they are going to happen. From a slip and fall to executive misconduct to natural disasters to fraud to arrests to investigations to computer viruses – know your vulnerabilities and have a plan to protect the brand.

If your company doesn’t already have a social media policy and a crisis communication plan in place, I beg you to consider doing this now. Hire an expert to come in and help you assess your company’s vulnerabilities, and create and put a plan in place so that when it does happen to your company (and it will at some point), you have a roadmap to help guide you when the tornado hits.

Being prepared for a PR crisis in today’s climate is just as important as having an emergency preparedness or disaster recovery plan for your business. While communication is a part of those plans, dealing with a PR crisis/social media is not the same and requires a separate plan. Without one, your company risks a major storm of negativity that could be difficult to recover from as a result of doing nothing, playing the blame game or – just as bad – doing too little too late.