Are you ready for your next crisis? A great reputation is not enough.

September 23, 2015 by Mark Wenham


While reputations now have a tangible financial value attached to them, of greater importance to crisis management is the trust inherent in a strong reputation.

Companies like Lego, Kellogg’s, Rolls Royce and Sony recognise the importance of this and are now rated as having the best reputations in the UK. It is by winning trust that strong reputations are built and this trust will be invaluable when the next crisis strikes.

Companies cannot rely on reputation alone to pull them through, and a reputation can of course be lost in a heartbeat. There is a considerable amount of crisis management planning, training and rehearsal that needs to be done to ensure that companies will go into and then emerge from a crisis with their reputation intact.

Here are five key areas to consider for your reputation protection:

1. Reputational risk assessment

Thinking through what might happen and what could damage your reputation most is a good starting point. This is an ongoing process to regularly review the impact and probability of key risks and assess how your actions and resource allocation are influencing them. This will require you to think outside the box. Who would have predicted a passenger airliner disappearing without trace before the Malaysian airlines MH 370 disaster?

2. Indicators and warnings

A system needs to be in place to identify emerging issues and monitor your risks. Have something (or someone) giving you valuable information that allows you to consider the possible impacts of external events and internal issues. Ashley Madison has been heavily criticised for its crisis management response to the hacking of its website; if they had identified and acted upon the earlier hacking of perhaps they could have averted their crisis.

3. Crisis management planning

Develop a crisis management plan of course; but ensure that it is a live document, regularly reviewed, updated and tested against your risks. One that is simple, robust and sufficiently well-rehearsed that your team will make the right decisions when the time comes, even if they don’t follow the plan to the letter. As Dwight D Eisenhower said “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything”.

4. Practice, practice, practice

In order to build the trust and confidence of your crisis management team, you will need to train and rehearse the plan. Everyone knows that practice makes perfect but how often do we make the excuse that we don’t have time? The effective crisis management response of organisations such as Germanwings demonstrates the critical importance of a well conceived, well rehearsed crisis management plan.

5. Train spokespeople

Identifying in advance the public face of your organisation in a crisis is an important part of your crisis management planning. But whoever you select must be trained and ready for the event. Facing a potentially hostile and inquisitive media, demanding swift answers is not easy. But with the right person and the right training it can be achieved, as demonstrated by Merlin Entertainment CEO Nick Varney following the recent Alton Towers accident.

A strong and positive reputation is invaluable when managing a crisis, but it is not enough on its own. Thorough crisis management planning, training and rehearsal are just as important to ensure that you deliver the right response at the right time. The real value of your reputation may depend on it!

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