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Protecting the integrity of your brand in times of crisis

October, 2020

Maintaining the integrity of your brand should be a key consideration for any organisation and it is often during a crisis that the matter requires the greatest attention, writes Philip Jones, Director at Kent PR and marketing agency Maxim.

A crisis communications plan is all very well if you have one, but in the current pandemic it’s often simple human actions that count.

Brand protection operates at many levels. From a legal perspective, the emphasis in on patents, trademarks and copyright. Meantime, the marketing department brand police will busy themselves with fonts, Pantone numbers and the minutiae of how the company logo is used.

However it is a much wider issue than these simple mechanics. It also incorporates how an organisation responds to a crisis, both in terms of its handling of a particular situation and what its actions say about its values and culture.

Any organisation – no matter how well run – can face a potential public relations crisis and, as the last six months have shown, that crisis will not necessarily be of your own creation. How it is handled, though, is very much your responsibility.

In an ideal world, you would have a pre-written plan in place with agreed procedures, sample statements and media-trained spokespeople. The plan may also include professionals you can turn to for advice – best taken early – on the correct strategy to adopt and the best way to deal with the issues that are likely to arise.

An all-encompassing crisis

What is more complex, though, is how businesses respond to an all-encompassing crisis such as the current pandemic.

In these circumstances it is not crisis communications plans, trademarks or your corporate style guide that will maintain the integrity of your brand. Rather is it how your organisation responds in the round, and whether your actions align with the values you claim to adhere to.

It is something that touches on the whole culture of an organisation and whether your stakeholders – from employees and suppliers to customers and the general public – have the confidence to put their trust in you.

Trust and integrity

Trust is an almost immeasurable soft power but it is one that has tremendous influence. The public will pay more to buy from brands they trust and will listen more carefully to people they view as having integrity. However, once that trust is gone, it is hard to regain.

There is a lesson here for the whole way the Covid-19 pandemic has been handled nationally. But there are also things to learn at the level of individual organisations and what their actions over the past six months have said about their overall corporate culture.

At the risk of sounding slightly old-fashioned, has your organisation been seen to behave honourably?

There have been examples of excellent behaviour, such as organisations that went out of their way to support their staff and small suppliers, as well as employers that decided it was only right and moral to refund the financial support they had received from the Treasury having fared far better than they feared they would.

Equally, though, there have been plenty of examples of shoddy conduct: firms that made no allowance for the challenges faced by people working from home while also caring for young children; employers which have abused furlough and used it as an excuse to pay their staff less while – improperly – making them work full-time; organisations refusing to give refunds for services not delivered; cash-rich businesses sitting on their reserves and starving their suppliers of money.

These actions may bring short term tactical gains but they tarnish the brand and cause long-term reputational damage. You win a battle but lose the war.

• This article originally appeared in Kent Director in October 2020.

Philip Jones - Associate

Philip Jones

Maxim / Associate

posted in: advice, public relations, reputation management,

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