We are very excited to continue our public relations and crisis communications expert interview series with Richard Dukas, founder and CEO of New York-based Dukas Linden Public Relations (DLPR) one of the nation’s top 10 largest independent financial PR agencies.
DLPR specializes in finance, asset management, professional services, and fintech. The firm’s asset management clients have more than $2.5 trillion in total assets under management. During his 34 years in public relations, Dukas has successfully developed and executed high-profile campaigns in the national, international, and financial media for well-known clients, including: Raymond James, Eaton Vance, Neuberger Berman, BlueMountain Capital, and Gabelli Funds.
What is reputation management? How does it relate to public relations?
In recent years, I’ve noticed the term “reputation management” used as if it’s something different from public relations. It’s not. Managing, defending, or promoting reputations is at the heart of everything we do. It goes to the core of what PR is all about.
Think of a reputation as an “asset.” Reputation management should be proactive, not reactive. We tell our clients that the first time a company engages in reputation management shouldn’t be when it faces a challenge for the first time. It needs to be promoted and protected over time, not all at once.
What are the biggest PR mistakes you see companies make online? How could these mistakes have been avoided?
We advise our clients to be proactive and take a long view to monitoring and managing their presence online, especially in social media. Engaging online without a long-term program with clear objectives and strategies in place increases the risk of hurting, rather than helping reputations and businesses. We don’t recommend that companies or individuals suddenly launch an online strategy or campaign in reaction to a specific reputational threat because that can amplify and complicate the challenge.
We advise our clients that online reputation management strategies that focus entirely on offense, defense, or some combination of the two, aren’t nearly as effective as strategies that focus on engagement. If you aren’t listening to what people are saying and why, people won’t listen to you or, even worse, may call you out for being out of touch.
How does social media factor into your reputation management strategy?
Social media is not an add-on or extension of a broader reputation management strategy. Just as each traditional media outlet—from print and online to radio and television—has its own focus, mission and way of doing things, so do social media channels. Each platform—and each of the most influential and respected voices on them—is different. We don’t take a cookie-cutter approach to traditional or social media.
On another level, social media is an essential tool for doing our due diligence before engaging with a media outlet or journalist. Twitter and LinkedIn can give us clues about what a reporter is and isn’t interested in covering, how and why.
What is the first thing a company should do when there is a crisis online?
The first thing a company should do is convene a crisis communications working group that it should have already had in place. The group should be big enough to cover all groups directly affected but small enough to make quick decisions and act in a timely fashion. This usually includes the CEO, COO, general counsel, and the heads of client relations and corporate communications, as well as the heads of all departments directly affected by the crisis.
We tell our clients that a crisis is the worst time for a company to directly engage with the media on its own for the first time. If a company doesn’t have a prior history of proactively and regularly engaging with the media during a crisis, it should strongly consider adding an experienced crisis communications advisor to the working group.
The working group should draft and update a Q&A together with relevant company leadership with a focus on the departments most directly affected by the crisis. The Q&A asks and answers all of the likely questions that employees, investors, clients, prospects, regulators, and the media might ask while ensuring that the team responding to the crisis agrees on what happened, who it affects, why it happened, and next steps.
The Q&A is not an external facing document but portions of it can be used for drafting statements and other communications with external and internal stakeholders.
What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?
I’d rephrase this question: what should a company do to help its employees during and after a PR crisis? Companies that haven’t already earned the trust of their employees will face understandable skepticism, even resistance, to any attempt to “spin” during and after a crisis.
1. Companies that have earned the goodwill of their employees, should provide them with clear and concise information about the crisis and how the company is responding and plans to respond.
2. Companies should have processes in place so that any employee concerns are heard and managed appropriately.
3. Employees should follow the firm’s existing media policies and refer all media queries to a designated communications manager, as appropriate.
4. Employees should refrain from providing commentary on their social media accounts, other than sharing the company’s response by linking back to it, as appropriate.
Is reputation management getting easier or harder? Why?
That depends entirely upon how thoughtful and proactive a company or high profile individual has been in creating a long-term reputation management plan and sticking to it. The companies and people that have done this will fare better than those that haven’t.
That being said, there are certain taboo topics that can cause irreparable harm to clients’ brands. This is true on both the company and individual level. Those topics, not surprisingly, are racial or sexual discrimination and insensitivity, fraud and other criminal activity, and tax evasion.
What has been your biggest PR or crisis communications challenge? How did you handle it?
For reasons of client confidentiality, we don’t comment on the specifics of our crisis communications work for our clients.
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