Craig Badings has spent over 30 years advising major corporations and senior executives in Australia and South Africa on their reputation in good times and bad. Much of that time has been spent working in the trenches with boards, management teams, and in-house communication teams assisting them with issues and crisis preparation and management, media coaching and media relations, communication strategy, social media strategy, and thought leadership. Craig is also the author of two ebooks and two published books on thought leadership. Follow on Twitter at @ThoughtStrategy and connect on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/craigbadingsthoughtleader/.
QUESTION: How do you define "reputation management?"
CRAIG BADINGS: Reputation management revolves around three things: context, stakeholders, and culture. To protect and enhance a brand or a corporation’s reputation, that entity needs to have a strong handle on the context in which it is operating and specifically how it's key stakeholders view that context and how it impacts their lives, their decision making, and their perception of whether the brand is operating within or beyond its social license.
You can have the best reputation management practices in place, but if your culture does not align with your values nor your purpose, your organisation’s risk exposure is dramatically increased. Over three decades, almost all the crises in which I have been involved have stemmed from poor culture or a breakdown of what was done versus the values or purpose of that organisation.
(Read more on this topic by Craig in his post: Avoiding the post-pandemic culture chasm:
TWEET THIS: If your culture does not align with your values nor your purpose, your org's risk exposure is dramatically increased. -@ThoughtStrategy #CorporateCulture #EmployeeExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog
QUESTION: You recently wrote about three types of response to a crisis. Can you share brief highlights?
CRAIG BADINGS: There are three types:
(1) The Ostrich – they bury their heads in the sand hoping it will blow over or subside. Some companies purposefully employ this strategy, but it can be high risk on two fronts; 1) the news, social media and public sentiment can run away from you very quickly and grow increasingly negative and sometimes hostile; 2) the company can be accused of trying to hide things, ducking their responsibility and being irresponsible or intransigent in their response.
(2) The Pugilist – the company goes on the attack and comes out swinging punches, i.e., legal letters, statements and social media responses which are very defensive in nature and tone, reacting too quickly, denying things without really knowing the full facts, not showing empathy nor offering an apology, ignoring the context, saying or doing things (or not doing things) which can result in a secondary crisis, or which further inflame the situation.
(3) The cool, calm and collected – they have the plans, the necessary structures as well as crisis experienced people in place inside and outside the organisation. They’ve also tested them in some form of crisis simulation. They respond quickly but in a measured, empathetic way and always with a broader understanding for the context. They realise who their stakeholders are, how and when to communicate with them every step of the way, and they take control of the narrative. They balance advice from communication consultants and their lawyers – they don’t hide behind the law but realise that a well-placed, authentic apology, and the right empathetic tone can help enormously in managing how they are perceived to be handling the crisis.
QUESTION: Can you name three CEO’s who have stepped up following a crisis, and what did they do?
CRAIG BADINGS: Here are my three:
(1) The Whole Foods Co-CEOs Walter Robb and John Mackey when accused of overcharging customers sent out a video message in which they fully accepted responsibility. Said Robb: "Straight up, we made some mistakes. We want to own that and tell you what we’re doing about it."
(2) At the start of Covid-19, Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson said he would forfeit his salary for the year and that Marriott would donate hotel rooms to front-line workers to help fight the pandemic. He also asked executives to sacrifice half their salaries.
(3) In 2018, two African American men were arrested for trespassing at a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for a friend. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson travelled to Philadelphia to meet the arrested men and announced he would close all 8,000 US stores for half a day so that about 175,000 employees could attend racial bias education to address implicit bias and prevent discrimination. Johnson’s communication was also spot on: "I want to offer a personal apology to the two men who were arrested in our store. What happened in the way that incident escalated and the outcome, was nothing but reprehensible, and I am sorry...Now there’s been some calls for us to take action on the store manager. I believe that blame is misplaced. In fact, I think the focus of fixing this: I own it. This is a management issue, and I am accountable to ensure we address the policy and the practice and the training that led to this outcome."
QUESTION: In your book, Brand Stand, you described seven steps to thought leadership. Can you share highlights?
CRAIG BADINGS: When I wrote that book, I spent a year researching what had been written about thought leadership. I was amazed to find there was nothing outlining a process or methodology to arrive at a thought leadership position. Most of it was how to take your thought leadership to market, the content, the channels.
That prompted me to come up with a five-step process:
(1) Understand the challenge, i.e., the biggest issues facing your stakeholders and the objectives for your thought leadership.
(2) Develop the thought leadership strategy, i.e., do the research (you need empirical evidence), allocate internal resources including senior management buy-in.
(3) Content development and production, i.e., develop your collateral, coach your spokespeople, and launch internally first.
(4) Launch your thought leadership communications program, i.e., build a pervasive presence with your stakeholders (depending on who they are, this could include media, social media, events, etc., but it must be relevant to the way your stakeholder’s consume content).
(5) Measurement, evaluation, and recalibration, i.e., measure against your original objectives and then make the necessary changes - the best thought leadership is built over years and is not a one-off.
QUESTION: There is an important alignment between reputation management and public relations. In March 2021, Burger King experienced a PR crisis, and you commented with the directive, “Know your audience.” Can you elaborate?
CRAIG BADINGS: What I was saying is that you cannot afford to be tone deaf to the context in which you operate. You run a huge reputation risk to your brand if you aren’t tapped into monitoring environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. At its core, this means knowing what they are and understanding how your stakeholders feel about these things. Companies which sometimes hide behind the mantra of their legal right are often defensive or naïve.
Look where it got Rio Tinto, who was legally entitled to blow up the Juukan Caves, but it was a decision so out of kilter with stakeholder and societal expectations that it resulted in a huge crisis for the company and the loss of jobs for many senior executives. Read more about the Juukan Cave destruction in my article in PR Week: https://www.prweek.com/article/1706949/juukan-cave-destruction-red-light-pr-practitioners.
The role of PR practitioners has changed. It's no longer good enough to only think about content, media, and selling the benefits of your brand. Instead, PR is a lot more all-encompassing and should be focused on the entire gamut of reputation management.
In our experience at SenateSHJ, this revolves around three key areas: Promotion, Engagement, and Protection. Here is a bit more on each of those:
(1) Stakeholder engagement: executive visibility/profile-building program, thought leadership, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) communication, proactive media and government relations, social media and content marketing.
(2) Engagement: employee engagement and communication, culture change, leadership behaviour programs, behavioural programs, and change management.
(3) Protection: crisis preparedness, crisis management, issues tracking, stakeholder engagement, alignment with other corporate risk frameworks, e.g., BCP (Business Continuity Planning).
TWEET THIS: The role of PR practitioners has changed. It's no longer good enough to only think about content, media, and selling the benefits of your brand. -@ThoughtStrategy #PR #DebbieLaskeysBlog
QUESTION: What are your three favorite brands, and why?
CRAIG BADINGS: Here are my three:
(1) Fenn surfskis: First, because I am a surfski nut and get out paddling on the water on Sydney’s beautiful harbour waterways as well as the ocean off Manly Beach. Second, because they are made in the country where I grew up, South Africa, and every ski purchased supports local employment in a country suffering from high unemployment.
(2) Apple iPhone: The only time I ever completely missed my train stop going home from the city was when I got my first iPhone. I was so engrossed in the incredible features, apps, and the user friendliness of it that I went a few stops past mine. It remains my favourite piece of tech in my life.
(3) Patagonia: I read founder, Yvon Chouinard’s book, Let My People Go Surfing, many years ago well before ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and sustainability was fashionable. I was struck by their strong sense of purpose and their values right from the outset.
My gratitude to Craig for appearing on my Blog and for sharing his inspiring marketing and reputation management insights.
Image Credit: Debbie Laskey.