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Accelerating Reputational Crisis Threat

Accelerating Reputational Crisis Threat

The uproar over comments by Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee last week along with the corporate, political and public responses should spook anyone who realizes that what happens in one situation could quickly morph and replicate itself into another. Our society’s current obsession with sensationalism apparently needs to be fed frequently and this is creating an accelerating reputational crisis for anything in its path.

Celebrities and politicians are drawing most of the attention. They regularly feed it, benefit from it and use it to distract us. If celebrities and politicians are also the targets for this negative attention, we can rationalize it as appropriate live by the sword, die by the sword justice.

Pandora accelerating reputation crisis

Unfortunately, it’s not likely that this trend will be limited to celebrities and politicians. Much like Pandora exposed all of us to the seven deadly sins when her personal curiosity got the better of her, politicians and celebrities’ sensational promotions are increasing the risk of an accelerating reputational crisis that will confront corporations.

Public facing, B2C businesses are already seeing this. The actions of a few can even compel more socially conscious businesses such as Starbucks to become the poster child for addressing broader societal issues.  While B2C companies are more exposed, B2B businesses are also vulnerable and they better learn to deal with this growing risk.

The social media channels we “enjoy” today are connecting, motivating and empowering massive attention to things few previously noticed. Mass media understands this and is compounding the effect by heavily covering social media developments. The result is that stakeholders, including those who affect the future of your business, are aware and engaged almost before we know.

In this next iteration of our concerns highlighted in our weaponized media and corporate crisis prepper blogs, we are now focused on the very real risk of accelerating reputational crisis situations. Of course, most of us will quickly say that that Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee represent entirely different situations. We tell ourselves that “we are not racists, misogynists or haters, and we don’t tolerate it from our employees or contractors.”

accelerating reputational crisis

While that sounds good and may be true, it’s rarely that simple and straightforward. What if an employee does something insensitive on his own time or it’s unclear who is telling the truth and you need to investigate. Now take it up a notch and consider a case of harassment that previously would have been addressed through an internal investigation but could easily become very visible in today’s world. These are legitimate issues that need to be addressed fairly and equitably.

You want to avoid being whipsawed by public opinion, but we cannot ignore it. Social media is facilitating such rapid detection, amplification, and counterattacks that it is exceedingly difficult to stay ahead of anything. What was OK yesterday may not be OK tomorrow. Something that might have been quietly handled in the past, can be very explosively public in the future. We all need to prepare and be on our toes.

To maintain their social license to operate and avoid being hit by an accelerating reputational crisis, companies need to work through these situations now, so they can respond in real time when they are confronted. Start by establishing and clearly communicating acceptable standards of behavior, including social media policy. Work through how you will respond to various scenarios, develop related messages and test them through tabletop exercises. These are just a few of the steps that help you to respond more quickly and effectively if you are hit by an accelerating reputational crisis.

Corporate Crisis Prepper – A Ton of Cure

By anticipating and managing the challenges that confront organizations, a corporate crisis prepper can make the difference between success and failure for a company. To understand how, we first need to explain what we mean by a corporate crisis prepper or more simply, a corporate prepper. To get there, we need to discuss the broader survival prepper movement in our society.  For those of you who are not as aware of prepper concerns, there may be more to the story than you think.

corporate prepper

Ultimately this story will take us to preparing for a corporate crisis when communication systems collapse. Along the way, we’ll briefly touch on items that some associate with preppers, such as storing food, medicine, and weapons for extreme doomsday scenarios. We’ll do this because there are elements of being a survival prepper that make it easier to understand why you should consider being a corporate crisis prepper.

At various levels of intensity, survival preppers have surmised that there is a risk of the breakdown in the fundamental systems we’ve come to expect in our everyday lives. This could be as obvious and likely as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes or some other natural catastrophe that disrupts day-to-day life. It might last for a day or two or it might be weeks or even months. Just look at the flooding from Hurricane Harvey in South Texas or the continuing hurricane damage on Puerto Rico. In these situations, there could be a loss of power, logistics for food and other supplies, internet and cellular communications, and increase in opportunistic or desperation crimes.

prepper supplies

Survival preppers address this possibility by storing water, food, medicines, alternative sources of power, manually powered radio, solar generator and some include self-defense in their preparations. The extent of preparedness depends upon the individual’s level of concern and their individual judgment and available resources to determine what is needed.  Many preppers very rationally, objectively weigh the risks and take the precautions they deem appropriate for those risk.

Someone who has been through several disruptive natural disasters is likely to have a few days of water, nonperishable food, batteries and maybe even a small generator. However, another person who has lived through weeks of isolation with no help available may well take even more extensive precautions.

solar flare corporate crisis prepper

Then there is the risk of wider, more extreme disasters such as a coronal mass ejection solar event frying electronic circuits or a major hack bringing down our national power grid. Both are unlikely at any given moment, but the consequences are so high that the seemingly small risk is great enough to consider some precautions.

Then you get less likely, but still feasible scenarios such as a break-down of civil order or armed insurrections. Most Americans scoff at this possibility, but we should realize that violent revolution and invasion are more common than our U.S. experience. Even the U.S. has had major revolutionary conflicts in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, so with our limited experience, we still average a major event about every 120 years. Those of you who have studied probability may see this risk as somewhat comparable to the multiple hundred-year floods the City of Houston had in 2017.

revolution corporate crisis prepper

This isn’t to suggest that we’re going to have a violent revolution in the U.S. any time soon or even ever. It’s just that globally revolutions are relatively common, meaning that at any given time somewhere in the world it is a real possibility. That’s why the smart money occasionally goes to the preppers.

If you layer on top of that the enormous, unpredictable advances in technology, the growing international tension and what we have already seen in countries using weaponized media to attack each other, we can see how major disruption is possible either through a natural disaster, mistakes or malicious intent. This makes being a corporate crisis prepper, the hero who will be praised if a non-traditional crisis befalls their company. It’s also where a lot of wealthy geniuses are putting some of their money.

It might surprise you to learn that several Silicon Valley billionaires have taken a little of their money and dedicated it to providing a sustainable life for themselves if we have a catastrophic event that wipes out a lot of our infrastructure and support systems. To them, it’s not that they expect doomsday scenarios, but the impact would be so great that it’s worth taking a few percents or even a fraction of a percent of their wealth to mitigate and guard against it.

prpepper bunker corporate crisis prepper

If these bright, wealthy individuals can objectively justify some prepper investments, shouldn’t the same be true for a major corporation which could either lose everything or end up ahead in a catastrophe? This is where being a corporate prepper and a survival prepper overlaps.

Like people, corporations have individual identities that they want to extend and grow. This requires a certain amount of care and societal acceptance for corporations to flourish. Companies need to be able to protect themselves and survive hardship, but they also need to be reconciled with other demands. So, let’s scale this back for the corporate prepper to just the relatively likely scenarios in the next few years and see what we should rationally do.

In addition to your crisis management, relationship, reputation and crisis communications efforts, the wise corporate crisis prepper needs to assume that the company’s website and social media channels are vulnerable. As we discussed in our recent blog on weaponized media, your digital media could be attacked long before you even know there’s an issue.

Since you could lose one or more of your primary communication channels, you may want to consider supplementing them with at least some of the following capabilities:

  • Equipment
    • Landline – cellular service can be interrupted or overloaded, and you need another way to reach people.
    • Satellite phone – for remote locations and critical communications if other systems fail.
    • Shortwave radio – in dire circumstances, this 20th-century technology rarely fails.
    • Cell phone with encrypted voice network – to talk with key personnel and stakeholders confidentially.
    • Controlled and encrypted text messaging system such as Vaporstream – if other systems may have been compromised, you need a secure way to exchange information.

crisis prepper

  • Resources
    • Hard copy contact lists and plans – If you can’t use your computer or smartphone, you better have a backup.
    • Radio contacts and protocol – if you rely on the web or even phone trees to communicate with employees, you need this if your region loses power and phone.
    • Dark website – both to protect your commercial website from being disrupted by a crisis and as a reserve if your primary site goes down.
    • Access to a major press release network, such as Business Wire or PR Newswire – this is to better target audiences and in case your internal capabilities aren’t available.
    • Monitoring services such as Cision, Meltwater or more sophisticated analytics such as Synoptos  – you need to know what is happening and how to counter.
    • An outside PR firm – to help you quickly scale up to challenges confronting your business and even take over if your own people are not able to respond.

A corporate crisis prepper who has the right mix of this equipment will have the basic ability to communicate with employees and stakeholders if they lose other channels such as internet and intranet through a widespread loss of power or denial of service. Of course, you will still be very limited in your ability to combat misinformation or attacks on your business unless you can quickly mobilize support to understand what is happening, appropriately respond and get your message out. That’s why a corporate crisis prepper will likely secure most, if not all, of the resources shown above.

In future blogs, we will delve more deeply into these individual tools and resources, but for the moment we just want to encourage you to anticipate risks and begin to marshal the capabilities necessary to respond to them.

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Email: info@corporatecrisisgroup.com

Address: 405 Main Street, Suite 730
Houston, Texas 77002