Interview with Ann Wright – Rough House Media

Ann Wright, Rough House Media

We are very excited to continue our public relations and crisis communications expert interview series with Ann Wright from Rough House Media.  Ann has more than 25 years’ experience working with the media – from both sides of the fence.

After a career as a print journalist and TV producer, she co-founded Rough House Media, which equips clients with confidence in their media relations, providing crisis communications strategy, and training courses in media interviews, crisis management, and presentation skills.

She works with multinationals, entrepreneurs, and the third sector, with clients as diverse as the International Committee of the Red Cross, Nestle, the World Energy Council, and the International Chamber of Shipping.

Ann draws on her experience as a print journalist and TV producer working on high profile and prestigious BBC programs to create effective strategies and training programs to raise her clients’ profile and influence, and to protect their reputation in a crisis.

As well as providing bespoke services for Rough House clients, Ann also delivers courses on behalf of the Public Relations and Communications Association, the Press Association, and the Chemical Industries Association and is a visiting lecturer of the London College of Communications.

Ann spent a decade as a newspaper reporter before moving to the BBC, where she did everything from going undercover to expose rogue companies to producing high profile and prestigious state occasions.

Her TV credits include BBC Consumer programs like Watchdog and UKs Worst, BBC News, two royal weddings, the 2015 Election, the Reburial of Richard III, Children in Need, The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Nelson Mandela’s Funeral.

What is reputation management? How does it relate to public relations?

Recent research found that 80% of the value of an organization is down to “intangibles” – reputation – so managing this is just as important as managing your IT or sales pipeline. Reputation management is not just fire-fighting when things go wrong, it is making sure that over the long-term your clients, your stakeholders, and the wider public have a positive view of how you do business. This involves your marketing and public relations departments focusing on the same outcomes, co-ordinating key messages and activities which align with your vision and values and protect and enhance your reputation.

What are the biggest PR mistakes you see companies make online? How could these mistakes have been avoided?

There are two key PR mistakes I see businesses make when they are in the midst of a crisis.

The first is to hide their heads in the sand and take too long to make any kind of public acknowledgment of what is going on and respond. Your clients and potential clients want to know that your business is aware of the issue and taking action to resolve the problem.

One recent example was a major fire at a hotel. The hotel took more than 24 hours to post any kind of statement on their website or social media about what had happened – and in the meantime, guests were posting on Twitter that they had arrived at the hotel to find it on fire. Hardly likely to evoke confidence that the company cared about their guests or was aware of the seriousness of the situation.

The second is when businesses refuse to apologize if it is the issue is their fault. While the legal advice might be not to admit liability, from a reputation/PR point of view, it is far better to apologize for the problem, make it clear you are doing something about it, and move on.

When I worked at the BBCs Consumer Unit investigating and exposing rogue companies on national television, the complainants always said that if the company had done the right thing and apologized, they would never have contacted the BBC to complain in the first place.

How does social media factor into your reputation management strategy?

Social media has been a game-changer in terms of reputation management. When anyone can post and everyone can read, those who want to criticize you have a global, free, and instantaneous forum.

As a result, businesses need to be continually alert to threats in terms of negative social media posts which may go viral and spread within minutes.

The drawbacks of social media are also the benefits, as it means that you can publicize your updates and positive news to an unlimited audience, and, if you are in the midst of a crisis, can use it to post updates and stamp on speculation.

What is the first thing a company should do when there is a crisis online?

If people are criticizing your business on social media, the best tactic is to take the conversations offline as quickly as possible and speak to people directly, to try to halt the stream of negative posts. Do not get involved in any kind of online slanging match and make sure all your posts are factual and constructive.

In a crisis, aim to become the main source of information about the situation, by posting regular updates, and use hashtags to help people, whether journalists or other stakeholders, find them easily.

What can senior executives and companies do to better prepare for a PR crisis?

Every business should have a robust crisis communications strategy, which has anticipated potential threats to their business and created action plans to deal with these.

With a strategy in place, they can feel confident that when a crisis blows up, they will be able to roll this out, take control of communications quickly, and protect their reputation from harm.

What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?

Your employees are your best resource. You need all your team to pull together and work to keep the business running so that when you come out of the crisis, you are stronger.

As part of your crisis communications strategy, you should have worked out each person’s role during specific situations, so everyone knows what is expected of them. You should also ensure everyone is trained and confident that they can fulfil that role.

We would advise that every company have a social media policy with specific clauses about what your team can and cannot post during a crisis, which every member of staff has to abide by as part of their contract.

Is reputation management getting easier or harder? Why? 

Reputation management, and particularly the management of crises has become more difficult for two reasons.

Firstly, the speed with which news spreads around the world means that a company needs to respond to criticisms, threats or crises almost immediately, often before they know the full facts.

And secondly, social media has become a hang-out for the extreme and the cruel, which makes a measured response to any crisis or a reasonable discussion of any issue extremely difficult.

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