We are very excited to continue our public relations and crisis communications expert interview series with David Gerzof Richard, CEO and founder of BIGfish PR, a public relations agency headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts that represents publicly traded companies, sovereign nations, professional athletes, social impact brands and white-hot start-ups.
In addition to running BIGfish, he is a professor of public relations and digital media at Emerson College, a lecturer at Harvard University, and an investor/advisor to a number of early-stage companies. He holds a master’s degree from Emerson College and a bachelor’s degree from Boston University. David is a marketing leader with deep expertise in corporate storytelling and the introduction of new companies, ideas, and products across a spectrum of sectors including technology, energy, sustainability, consumer products, healthcare, finance, professional sports, agriculture, travel, and tourism. David and his team at BIGfish guide brands with their market leadership positioning, message development, public relations efforts, marketing and crisis communication, launch strategies and campaigns, social media outreach, content strategy, press and analyst relations, media training and speaking engagements.
Prior to founding BIGfish, David was employee number one at Cignal Global Communications, an international voice and data phone company he helped form in 1995. David served a number of roles at Cignal, including VP Marketing, Communications Director and Company Spokesperson. The company was acquired by UGC’s Priority Telecom in 2000.
What is reputation management? How does it relate to public relations?
Reputation management is the practice of influencing the perception of a brand or individual when searched or viewed online. Public relations and reputation management are both practices that focus on changing perceptions and the two relate to one another in a number of ways that mainly revolve around search. The outcomes of successfully executed PR campaigns often populate page one search results with news coverage, which happens to be the target real estate for reputation management campaigns. Page one search results also happen to be the starting point where many journalists research a brand or individual before setting out to conduct an interview.
What are the biggest PR mistakes you see companies make online? How could these mistakes have been avoided?
There are too many to count, but my top three are:
- Leaving critical data unsecured on the web
- Brain-dead posts, social media or otherwise
- Posting news before news agencies publish coverage
How does social media factor into your reputation management strategy?
Social media gives a brand or individual a platform to present their message and narrative with no filters. This can be incredibly effective in communicating with customers, stakeholders, and the general public during a crisis that can negatively impact a brand.
What is the first thing a company should do when there is a crisis online?
The first thing any brand should do when there is a crisis is to make certain all online touchpoints including the brand’s website and social media accounts are reflective of the brand’s core values and are ready to go to at a moment’s notice to address the issue thoughtfully, openly and honestly.
What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?
Employees are perhaps the most critical stakeholder during a PR crisis. A brand’s employees are perceived as “insiders” by the general public; the statements they make and the actions they take can carry very heavy weight. It is important to keep this in mind and that many employees have smartphones and are active on social media, which can add fuel to a fire or help extinguish it. It is therefore critical to communicate as frequently and as transparently as possible with employees.
What can senior executives and companies do to better prepare for a PR crisis?
Have a plan. Crisis planning is often overlooked or pushed aside during the course of normal business activities. It is only when a crisis strikes that stakeholders look to leadership for guidance and if there is no real plan then things can get messy, fast. It’s impossible to plan for every eventuality, but certain industries have a high frequency of similar crises striking again and again. Regardless of the cause, many crises involve interruptions in normal business operations and that is something all businesses should have a plan for.
Is reputation management getting easier or harder? Why?
Reputation management has been getting easier for some brands and harder for others; it really depends on how well a brand manages its external communications. Brands that are highly active communicators, ie. have consistent, strong social engagement, a keen awareness of what its search results look like, and/or a solid PR strategy, tend to have a much easier time navigating reputation management than brands which that do not have strong external communication.
What has been your biggest PR or crisis communications challenge? How did you handle it?
Over the past 20 years, BIGfish PR has handled a fair amount of PR crises for our clients. There is no one specific crisis that stands out; however, we have found there are a number constants for handling PR crises across the board:
- Have a relatively easy-to-execute response plan.
- Identify all stakeholders impacted by the crisis.
- Form a response team to lead execution.
- Constantly monitor the situation.
- Be honest and transparent in all messaging.
- Never speculate on unknowns.
- Always communicate genuine concern for all stakeholders impacted by the crisis.
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