Can Your Brand Recover from a Public Crisis? This Branding Expert Explains

06/12/2017 05:59 pm ET Updated Jun 13, 2017

2017 has brought us some jaw-dropping headlines and media moments filled with “what in the world were they thinking.” From Pepsi to Bill Maher to Kathy Griffin and even our highest political figures, no one has been safe from scandal. Over the years I’ve seen my share of scandals in the press and even managed a few crisis moments. All I have to say is that I do believe in the notion that it takes years to build a brand and only seconds to destroy everything that you’ve worked your entire life for. Not everyone has an Olivia Pope or a real life Judy Smith as their saving grace when their brand is caught up in a mess. Realistically, not everyone can afford a spectacular brand manager or crisis communications expert but I think its asinine if you have a business and you don’t have a brand manger or publicist. Its like going to court without an attorney or being your own doctor at your own surgery. So for all the headlines we’ve seen and the brands suffering from major public fall-outs, we had to ask, Can Your Brand Recover from a Public Crisis? We brought in Personal Branding Expert, Courtney R. Rhodes to answer this question. Courtney is the founder of the TheBrandistaGuide.com and author of the newly-released Make Your Mark: Personal Branding Through ‘On-Purpose’ Living She sat down with us and shared her expertise on the topic. Check out what Courtney had to say below.

Courtney R. Rhodes

Courtney R. Rhodes: Can Your Brand Recover from a Public Crisis? This is a great question and the answer has multiple layers. A personal brand can be just as vulnerable as a corporate brand to experiencing a public crisis at some point during their career. If this happens to your brand, will you be prepared to bounce back? With an effective crisis communication plan, you certainly can but like most of us, you’re not walking around with a communications strategy on the desktop of your MacBook Pro. When and if your dreaded day arrives, be prepared to publicly address the occurrence head-on for your brand’s best opportunity to recover.

Here’s the skinny on how to effectively approach a brand crisis. First, decide if the situation you’re receiving bad press around is something being misinterpreted or if you’re really guilty of the indiscretion. Your personal brand should be authentic at all costs and with that, if something you’ve done or said is receiving public scrutiny while you support your stance and disagree with your critics- stand behind your position. In a situation like this, a public statement is necessary to clarify your intent in the state of affairs and provide clarity around the incident. Your public statement needs to reiterate your position about what transpired while providing the public additional insight supporting your take on the matter. Meanwhile, if your brand is receiving public scrutiny and you acknowledge the wrong doing or a bad decision you’ve made, immediately offer a heartfelt public apology.

Secondly, while an apology is a start in minimizing the long- term impact the crisis could have on your brand’s reputation, follow your apology with an immediate corrective deed. The public is not only influenced by what you say, but more so by what you do. During a public crisis, own up to your mistake and right away implement a corrective ploy. Go with a counteractive action that highlights your brand’s attempt to clarify or fix the problem and provide good will to an organization, cause or project directly related to the crisis. While philanthropic work done quietly is admirable, during a public calamity it’s necessary to publicize your efforts to capture the good will. Your philanthropic work presents an opportunity to refocus the public’s attention towards your brand.

In Chapter 8 of my book, Make Your Mark: Personal Branding Through “On-Purpose” Living, I discuss the importance of supporting your ideals through philanthropy. While you need not wait for a crisis to do good work in your community and around the causes you care about, during a public crisis philanthropic work is your best defense.

Third, continue to reinforce the positive attributes of your brand by participating in on-going community and cause-related projects and publicly share those activities.

Amidst the U.S. Senate negotiating plans to repeal and replace the current Affordable Care Act, Kara McCullough, a physical scientist at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and newly-crowned Miss USA representing Washington, DC, initiated a social media frenzy with her stance on healthcare being ‘a privilege.’

Prior to McCullough’s crowning on Sunday, she was asked during the Q&A part of the pageant if “affordable health care for U.S. citizens is a right or a privilege?” “I’m definitely going to say it’s a privilege. As a government employee, I’m granted health care and I see first-hand that for one to have health care you have to have jobs,” she stated.

Debatably the intent behind McCullough’s statement was unclear. With a lack of clarity behind her stance, the debate and push back of McCullough’s statement sparked an on-going social debate. Days later while speaking to “Good Morning America,” McCullough clarified that she believes health care should be a right but stood by her position.

McCullough’s brand is certain to benefit from her public statement clarifying her stance and providing her supporters and critics alike with a more in-depth explanation of her position on health care. In all fairness, having thirty seconds to answer a loaded question on such a timely, controversial and sensitive topic left a lot of room for misinterpretation.

The purpose of publicly communicating during a crisis is to diffuse the incident’s negative impact on the brand, minimize damage to the brand’s reputation and restore the public’s trust.

While your brand’s perspective and opinions can’t and shouldn’t aim to please everyone, Americans tend to be fairly forgiving when we can relate and empathize with someone. With that, the key to recovering your brand from a public crisis lies in immediately making a public acknowledgment supporting or clarifying your position or offering a heartfelt apology, if necessary. When an apology is offered, follow up with actions of supporting philanthropic efforts linked to the incident. As you publicly participate and share your efforts working on initiatives that make the world a better place, your brand will favorably flourish.

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