We are very excited to continue our public relations and crisis communications expert interview series with Amanda Coleman from Amanda Coleman Communication Ltd.
Amanda has more than 20 years’ experience in communicating in a crisis working with public bodies. Her experience includes working with emergency services, central government, local authorities, and health providers.
In 2017, Amanda led the law enforcement communication response to deal with the Manchester Arena terrorist attack. She has also been responsible for leading communication during riots, the murder of police officers, and the death in service of a Chief Constable.
She is the author of Crisis Communication Strategies published by Kogan Page in May 2020. It brings together advice for preparing for a crisis, dealing with it and moving effectively into the recovery phase.
Amanda has worked as a journalist and is a Chartered PR Practitioner as well as a Fellow of both the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and the Public Relations and Communication Association. She is an international speaker on crisis communication.
What is reputation management? How does it relate to public relations?
Reputation management is a much misunderstood and misinterpreted phrase. For me, your reputation comes from what you do and how you operate. It cannot just come from the PR or communication no matter how good this is. What PR and communication can do is put a spotlight on the positive operation or in the case of a crisis on the response which will strengthen or build the reputation of the business.
What are the biggest PR mistakes you see companies make online? How could these mistakes have been avoided?
One of the biggest problems is organizations or businesses that are not authentic. They behave in a way that is not supported by their brand values and it falls flat. People easily spot when brands are not being authentic, and it is incredibly damaging. You can add to that the times when companies are using digital or social channels because they think they should but are unclear what they are trying to get from it. The bottom line is do something because it benefits your PR, communication, and customer service not because you want to try the latest social fad. Above all be yourself and stick to your brand values.
How does social media factor into your reputation management strategy?
Social media is an integral part of reputation management and communication more broadly. It is by no means the only method to focus upon as there are still many customers and service users who are not plugged into social media. But people on social media can be vocal and can instantly raise an issue and make it global. Companies must have a strong social media footprint to know what is going on and be able to respond to it with speed.
What is the first thing a company should do when there is a crisis online?
The most important thing is recognizing that it is there in the first place. Too many businesses either fail to spot the crisis that is emerging or refuse to accept it is there. This means they are losing valuable time in responding in a way that will build trust and confidence. It is then important to engage with people online so you can explain what is happening, what is being done, and build that confidence.
What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?
If you have strong employee engagement this will be incredibly beneficial during a crisis. It means the frontline employees who are likely to be the ones speaking to customers or service users know what to say and do to support the company and will be wanting to do it. Employees have more credibility with the public and can be the best spokespeople when dealing with a crisis. Once the crisis is concluding there is the most challenging part — the long road to recovery. This is when employee engagement and support will be vital to secure the future of the business.
What can senior executives and companies do to better prepare for a PR crisis?
Simply have a crisis communication plan, know the risks to the business, and test out your response. In recent years financial pressure has led to people being focused on today often with little time, money, or energy to plan for the future. Those at the top of the company can change that by prioritizing readiness to face a crisis.
Is reputation management getting easier or harder? Why?
I think reputation management is getting easier. We now have access to lots of data, insight and analytics that can help us keep on top of sentiments and reputation. I also think people are clearer about what they want and expect from brands, and they are vocal about it through social media. If companies are listening, then they will be better placed to manage their reputation effectively.
What has been your biggest PR or crisis communications challenge? How did you handle it?
I led the police communication response to the Manchester Arena terror attack which happened on 22 May 2017. It was a huge challenge and the work transformed how I viewed crisis communication. We had plans, processes, and policies but they were not focused on people. The people who were affected were what drove the communication effort both externally and internally. The experience was what pushed me to write my book Crisis Communication Strategies so I could encourage others to change how they view, prepare for, and respond to crises.
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