Interview with Debra Caruso Marrone – DJC Communications

We are very excited to continue our public relations and crisis communications expert interview series with Debra Caruso Marrone owner and President of DJC Communications.

Debra Caruso Marrone, president and owner of DJC Communications (founded in 1991), has more than 30 years of experience in the media field and has directed campaigns for corporate entities, large non-profit organizations, unions, trade organizations and leading universities.

Debra is a member of the Board of Directors of the New York Press Club and represents the organization as its public relations consultant. A graduate of Fordham University with a degree in journalism, she was previously vice president at Sheehan Communications, Inc.

A known expert on the media, she has been quoted in The New York Times, Marketwatch, ABC News Radio, metro US, WNYC, E-Commerce TimesArizona RepublicForbes.comChristian Science Monitor and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel among others. Featured in The Hill and Huffington Post, Debra has also written articles on public relations in such publications as BullDog Reporter,, O’Dwyer’s PR Magazine and on such topics as advice for the presidential candidates.

President of the Fordham College Alumni Association, Debra is author of the book, Fordham University & the United States: A History. She and her husband, Mike Marrone, live in Glen Cove, Long Island.

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

All entities, from Mom and Pop retail operations to Fortune 100 companies, rely on reputation management for success. Reputation is how an entity is perceived by its customers, employees, vendors, and all constituents. Without a positive, forward-facing status in one’s realm, businesses will suffer. Public relations efforts support reputation management with proactive, image-enhancing measures like branding, promotional campaigns, media relations and crisis communications.

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

Too many entities, even the largest, most public companies, make the mistake of not perfecting their websites. Some of the largest retailers have websites that fail, that don’t offer ease of use, or cause shoppers to run into obstacles. They don’t have customer service reps at the ready to solve issues.

All companies should invest in web development to allow customers to do business with them and to learn about what they do, all of which should be consistent with their branding and operation.

This has been especially apparent during the COVID-19 crisis. Retailers and restaurants that could not adapt and pursue online ordering with curbside pick-up did not succeed.

How does social media factor into your reputation management strategy?

Social media supports reputation management. Every success a company has and every service it offers should be posted to social media because in most instances today, social sites are the face of the company and the first point of connection to customers. Social sites should be updated constantly and monitored consistently to ensure that all messaging is positive. If there is negative messaging from an unhappy customer, for instance, that should be addressed as quickly as possible.

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

Assess before acting. It is crucial that management, with the support of a PR team, refrain from taking action until they have investigated the crisis, how it occurred and what should be done to solve it. Once the solution is determined, the problem should be confronted head-on and the company should let the public know what action it is taking and why. All of this must be done as quickly as possible.

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

Employees must always be on board. It is up to management to communicate with employees to let them know what crisis has occurred and how the company plans to deal with it. Once determined, employees should be briefed and instructed on what to say to customers and what not to say. Most importantly, all employees should be advised not make statements – to the public or to the media – without the authorization of management.

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

An action plan should always be in place in case of a crisis. Once management is informed of a problem, it should commence immediate communication with a PR team and with attorneys, if necessary. Those teams will advise management on how to proceed. The system through which all of this occurs should be known to all entities and each person involved should know to be ready at any time of day or night.

Is reputation management getting easier or harder? Why?

Definitely more difficult because media deadlines are constant and there is no time of day or night that is immune to criticism or error. Negative feedback, for instance, can be posted to social media at any time. Plus, there are many more outlets available to those will spread negative information. Instead of one hole in the dike, there are hundreds, which makes plugging the holes that much more difficult.

What has been your biggest PR or crisis communications challenge? How did you handle it?

My most far-reaching and perhaps biggest crisis communications challenge would have been many years ago when I was a young PR person working for the union that represented New York City police officers. As with today, there were instances when officers were accused of acting in such a way that would cause harm to members of the public. It was very difficult to reconcile those who acted inappropriately with the fact that so many police officers do their best to protect the public in a very difficult environment, which is the tactic that we took. Having that job would be much more difficult today because of video which leaves little question as to whether an officer’s life is threatened in a particular situation, offering potential (though certainly not definitive) justification.

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