We are very excited to continue our public relations and crisis communications expert interview series with Lou Laste, CEO of Brandware Group.
Lou is a diverse executive with more than 25 years’ experience in corporate and agency public relations. He has been a senior leader for some of the world’s largest corporations, including Bell Atlantic, Verizon, and Cox Automotive. Laste has led PR organizations in sales, product, brand, philanthropy, and technology. He has managed strategies ranging from startups, brand launches, corporate restructuring, crisis communication, and community relations.
What is reputation management? How does it relate to public relations?
A reputation is a sum of your actions. Everything you do affects it. Protecting, defending, and polishing the reputation of a company or brand is the essence of true public relations. It is above and beyond marketing or the amplification of marketing and it separates paid from earned. A well-managed brand reputation allows a company’s marketing dollars to be spent more effectively.
What are the biggest PR mistakes you see companies make online? How could these mistakes have been avoided?
Marketing that does not reflect diversity is one of the biggest and most avoidable mistakes. Overall, paying attention to culture and society is critical online. Don’t post a “Time to Party” ad in the middle of a pandemic.
How does social media factor into your reputation management strategy?
More than ever, social media is one of the most important elements of reputation management. Establishing and communicating a company’s voice in social media, apart from social marketing, is a tool that works over time. And on the flip side, a reputation can be severely damaged in very short order through social media when a crisis goes viral.
What is the first thing a company should do when there is a crisis online?
The first thing to do is to make sure whatever the offending material might be is taken down, immediately, if possible. Next, it is important to NOT respond before knowing the facts. Gather all the information, quickly. Then develop a response. If it truly is a mistake that requires an apology, do it fast and do not equivocate. And then do everything possible to prevent a follow-up mistake.
What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?
It’s important for employees to know that a crisis is a time in which the communications professionals are the only people speaking for a company. One voice is key. Even an employee thinking they are helping by making a Facebook post to friends in support of the company can jeopardize the efforts of the PR team. When a crisis is over, showing general support and pride for the company can be useful as long as it does not re-debate the issue.
What can senior executives and companies do to better prepare for a PR crisis?
All companies should ensure their communications team has a crisis plan and that it is up to date. Ensure the team knows who oversees all communications, internal and external. And the crisis communications lead(s) must have complete access to the facts, to the resources inside the company, a direct line to senior leadership, and empowerment. Speaking with one voice is very important, even if it is multiple people. One consistent message is critical.
Is reputation management getting easier or harder? Why?
The need for companies to bring in communications professionals and empower them with a seat at the table is far greater than it ever has been. In a world of 24-hour news and unlimited social media, companies cannot leave their reputations unprotected.
What has been your biggest PR or crisis communications challenge? How did you handle it?
I prefer to not revisit or recount any client or company’s previous crisis. I’ve been involved with a number of issues that resulted in loss of life of customers and of company employees. In a major crisis like these, immediately establishing a crisis communications center and team is the first step. In lesser issues, such as calls for a boycott for advertising on a controversial platform, it is important to have a plan in place and a partnership with related company departments in order to work quickly to diffuse the situation. Get the right people in the room. Get the facts. Evaluate the company position and policies, and make a decision. Then agree on a statement and course of action. Communicate it, quickly. Keep it short and simple. Do not add material for media to embellish. And stay off camera if possible.
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