We are very excited to continue our public relations and crisis communications expert interview series with Gregory Field Price, Senior Counsel and Head of the Strategic Communications Practice at Cameron LLP.
Gregory Field Price develops and executes business and communications strategies for clients across industries and geographies on issues including crisis response, stakeholder identification and engagement, public affairs, reputation management, environmental sustainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and operational structure.
Greg has devoted his career to problem-solving—as a lawyer, consultant, and educator. Well-versed in concept development and testing, he works from inside partner organizations to identify issues, connect with internal and external stakeholders, and create data-driven solutions at the intersection of public policy, law, and communications. Adept at building international networks, he has been responsible for several large-scale multinational marketing and philanthropic campaigns, served as confidante and counsel for c-suite executives, and led teams across client practice groups.
Greg has worked for governments, at universities and nonprofit organizations, and for one of the world’s largest communications consultancies. He currently serves on the Board of Advisors to QualityMD, College Food Network, and the Center for International Career Advancement (CICA), and the Board of Governors of the Jefferson Islands Club. Greg earned a master’s degree from New York University in International Business Law and his juris doctorate from the University of Notre Dame, where he concentrated on International Dispute Resolution. He was admitted to practice law in the State of New York and holds a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University, where he studied statistics in social psychology and child development.
What is reputation management? How does it relate to public relations?
Reputation management refers to the underlying drumbeat of positive information a brand (corporate, individual, or otherwise) provides its stakeholders. This includes not only the lifecycle of responding to reputation crises (i.e., preparation, identification, response, and recovery), but also the on-going choices, communications, and culture that inform each of those stages.
Reputation management begins with building a strong brand identity—through corporate governance and responsibility, marketable products and services, strong leadership, positive performance, and definable ethos. Companies that have easily identified and articulated visions, act as strong corporate citizens, and hone emotional appeal across audiences are better equipped to ride the waves of public scrutiny.
That is where smart public relations (PR) can play a role. In its narrowest sense, PR encompasses interactions with traditional and online media and serves as the primary means by which aspects of a brand are communicated to consumers. In its more extensive modern application, PR includes several other communication tools that can help spread the word about an entity’s brand to a variety of stakeholders, and in turn, build its reputation.
In either sense of the phrase, PR remains one arrow in a quiver of weapons to fortify and protect reputation. There is an adage in advertising, “a great ad can only get you to try a product once.” The same could be said of savvy PR. Without a cultivated brand (built on corporate leadership, innovation, performance, etc.), the public won’t look twice. Broader reputation management, however, embodies fulfilling the second half of that adage, “a great product keeps you coming back again and again.”
What are the biggest PR mistakes you see companies make online? How could these mistakes have been avoided?
The two biggest mistakes I see companies make online are neglecting to monitor and maintain social media platforms and failing to reflect the corporate brand and mission in online communications. These mistakes are related.
Untended social media platforms can lead to overlooked criticism and missed opportunities. This neglect includes using social media only reactively. While it can be a platform that facilitates rapid, individual response, like traditional earned media, social media operates best in balance.
A company’s brand is only as strong as it is universal. Corporate communicators wishing to avoid these mistakes should establish clear brand guidelines and allocate appropriate resources to developing and maintaining an online presence aligned with the corporate identity and used to push out new content as well as respond to and connect with stakeholder groups.
How does social media factor into your reputation management strategy?
Social media is an essential element of reputation building and protection for most entities. It is fast, measurable, and direct. The use of selective social media channels and targeted messaging can help a company: (1) build and affirm its brand identity; (2) develop and directly communicate with stakeholder groups; (3) recruit employees; and (4) advertise, market, and sell products and services.
It is also, however, often the greatest source of threats to corporate reputation. As such, no reputation management program is complete without cultivating and maintaining a robust social and digital presence that underscores corporate values. And, proper monitoring and careful targeting are even more essential when addressing reputational scrutiny. At minimum in crisis, companies should use social media to communicate directly with customers, suppliers, and partners; to measure the success of messaging across channels; and to reiterate and reinforce the brand identity.
More broadly, social media can serve not only as a testing ground for communication and thus a tool for real-time adaptation and program planning, but also the best tool to cultivate a continuous drumbeat of information to define and defend reputation.
What is the first thing a company should do when there is a crisis online?
Communications crises rarely remain where they begin. In terms of first steps, an online crisis is no different than any other. The company’s immediate duty is to assess the damage and create a crisis response team comprising those individuals best suited to set a realistic timeline, gather necessary data, and represent the company’s interests.
This dedicated team should start a clock and decide whether, when, and how to respond to the negative attention. The faster a company responds, the less likely the problem spreads. In the age of viral social media content and near-universal internet access, crises that begin online require tighter timelines and more engaged responses from corporate leadership.
What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?
Communicate. Stay positive. Live the brand.
Companies weather rough times by leaning into core values and building strong relationships. Employees are a company’s first line of defense. Team members should ask questions, express concerns, and alert corporate leadership to ongoing issues.
Employees should also be patient. Like steering a boat, it can sometimes take a while to feel the full effect of corporate changes. That doesn’t mean that change has started.
Most importantly, employees should understand what the company represents and their role in helping it reach those goals. There is no better brand ambassador than an employee who does his job well.
What can senior executives and companies do to better prepare for a PR crisis?
I often ask client CEO’s “In an ideal scenario, what would you like to be able to say in response to a criticism about X?” Whatever the response, make it true for your company.
Long before a crisis strikes, it is the duty of corporate leaders to build strong brands, buttressed by ethical decisions, and communicated in ways that resonate across audiences. The stronger the corporate identity and the more articulate a company’s values, the easier it will be to weather reputational scrutiny. If the best defense is a good offense, the best crisis preparation is making smart business decisions from the get-go.
Is reputation management getting easier or harder? Why?
They say it can take years to build a positive reputation yet only a second to destroy it.
As a result of a 24-hour news cycle, the ubiquity of social media, and the fact that every phone is now armed with a camera, issues response is no longer backroom deals to stifle stories and well-placed advertisements. Today, reputation management requires increased vigilance, more knowledge, and greater adaptability than even a decade ago.
Fortunately, those same communication tools that make reputation crises more frequent and more nuanced also allow companies increased access to their stakeholders, a wider range of opportunities to connect, and better data to drive decision-making. Perhaps for the first time ever, reputation is reliably measurable. The use of social media, in particular, has given corporations the ability to adapt communication strategies in real-time, reach tastemakers, and connect with unlikely partners to build defined and differentiated brand identities.
When handled adeptly, building a corporate or individual reputation is getting easier all the time. While protecting it just requires a different set of skills than it once did, with vigilance and vision corporations are better equipped than ever to weather reputation crises.
What has been your biggest PR or crisis communications challenge? How did you handle it?
Every corporate communicator has dealt with a taciturn General Counsel or camera-shy CEO unwilling or unable to get ahead of a rising tide of negative attention. Similarly, as a licensed attorney and communications consultant, my greatest challenge is often an internal one—the struggle when crisis strikes between wanting to say nothing (e.g., leave the job to the lawyers) and wanting to correct the record (e.g., respond to every ill-word and negative review).
It may be that when one’s most well-worn tool is a hammer, most problems look like nails, but I find time and again that every stage of a crisis is made easier through constructive communication. Finding the right balance between managing personalities (and fulfilling legal obligations) and making stakeholders feel heard begins with understanding interests. When dealing with tough corporate leadership, I ask questions. Dialogue can help shift ill-advised policy decisions (e.g., “We do not respond to media requests.”) to concerns about the corporate brand (e.g., “I’m worried if we say too much, it will open us up to litigation.”). Reframing is the first step to building a rapid response program that reinforces the company’s vision, culture, and guiding principles while still addressing concerns of senior staffers and outside counsel.
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