We are very excited to continue our public relations and crisis communications expert interview series with Scott Baradell, founder and CEO of Idea Grove, one of the top 25 technology PR firms in the United States. For more than 15 years, Scott has been a thought leader on the future of public relations. He created one of the original PR blogs, Media Orchard, which at one time had a larger audience than PRWeek. His focus in recent years has been on growing his agency by helping his technology clients grow.
In 2020, Scott began writing Trust Signals: The New PR, outlining a new framework for the practice of public relations, to be published by LionCrest in 2021. Put simply, “trust signals” are evidence points, from media coverage and online reviews to website “trust badges,” that make people believe in your brand. This site shares a new framework for PR centered on building and promoting trust. Scott has an Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) from the PRSA and speaks on PR and marketing topics at industry events nationwide.
What is reputation management? How does it relate to public relations? Reputation management is PR playing defense. When PR is on offense, it is working to get you attention and build your reputation. But as you build it, you also have to manage and protect it – such as when a crisis hits or customers are leaving bad reviews on review sites.
What are the biggest PR mistakes you see companies make online? How could these mistakes have been avoided? Companies don’t do enough to earn trust online; they take their credibility for granted. If you met someone in person for the first time, you would make an effort to build rapport. Too many companies don’t do this; they come off as stiff and salesy rather than helpful and authentic.
How does social media factor into your reputation management strategy?
Review sites are social media that send very important trust signals. People want to know what your customers and employees think about you and they find that information in Google, Glassdoor, and other reviews. Putting in place a proactive program to encourage positive reviews and reduce negative reviews is a key component of a reputation management strategy.
What is the first thing a company should do when there is a crisis online?
Find out what’s going on so you can gather yourself and tell the truth. Don’t feel pressured to leap to conclusions. Until you know the facts, it’s better to say, “I don’t know” or “We are looking into this and will get you answers as soon as possible.”
What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?
Don’t freak out. Wait for the facts and then stand by your company. Your company needs you most during times of crisis.
What can senior executives and companies do to better prepare for a PR crisis?
Be prepared to be spontaneous and roll with the punches. I’ve been doing crisis communications for a long time; I’ve managed responses to workplace shootings, salacious lawsuits, and everything in between. What I see too often in executives is a lot of huddling and conferring. That may make the lawyers happy, but it makes it less likely the public will believe you.
Is reputation management getting easier or harder? Why?
Definitely harder. It’s a 24-hour news cycle, and it’s much more difficult to fight against misinformation. Rumors and conspiracy theories take on a life of their own. Look at the ridiculous Wayfair conspiracy theory trying to connect the company to child trafficking, for example. In an earlier era, it wouldn’t have seen the light of day. Now it’s all over social media and Wayfair has to put out statements to try to tamp down these baseless accusations.
What has been your biggest PR or crisis communications challenge? How did you handle it? I
was the face of the wireless messaging industry for two days when almost everyone in the country lost service because of a satellite outage – millions of peoples’ lives were disrupted, including healthcare workers, law enforcement, and first responders. I handled it with vulnerability and honesty; frankly, I don’t know if I even looked at our official crisis plan. Preparing is good, but caring is better.