As communicators we all recognise the value of reputation. However, in an increasingly fragmented media landscape – with geo-political and technological developments outpacing regulation, it has never been more under threat. From AI, disinformation, and fake news, to falling consumer trust and risking stakeholder expectations, the challenges facing PR leads when trying to communicate authentically and with speed are many. 

Recently I attended the PR Week Crisis Communications Summit in Aldgate. It was a lively discussion led by former Number 10 comms chief, Lee Cain alongside PR leads at Virgin Money, Merck, ITV, Bupa, Luton Airport, and BT.

Here are some key insights and takeaways from the conversation that can help you navigate an increasingly issues rich landscape and safeguard your brand’s reputation: 

  • Data is king 

Understanding your audience is a vital part of any crisis response. In an era of data, we have the opportunity to quickly build audience profiles – don’t rely on hunches when we have evidence to guide decision making. 

  • Authenticity is a must 

In the multi-platform world in which brands now operate consumers can tell very quickly when a brand shifts in comms style or betrays the values it projects. In moments of crisis and scrutiny it is more important than ever to be led by your core values – stakeholders will be far more forgiving if you stick true to your principles whilst remaining committed to resolving the issue at hand. 

  • Don’t underestimate the power of strong visuals

A picture is worth a 1000 words – Visuals can be used to build stakeholder understanding of an issue or the challenge a brand is facing. This in turns helps build trust and recognition from stakeholders who may otherwise be scrutinising a brand’s response. 

  • Know your processes 

All comms leads present testified to the value of a rehearsed and well-oiled crisis response plan. While it’s unlikely you’ll be plucking a crisis playbook down from the shelf in the midst of an unfurling issue, having a team that is familiar and well versed in your agreed crisis response plan will be invaluable.  

  • The impact of AI on disinformation

While AI can be a tool in the identification of disinformation, AI is also supercharging the proliferation of disinformation on social and traditional media. Proactive action is key to take control of the narrative around your brand. By sharing regular accurate news and briefings with key stakeholders you can drive your own narrative. Speed of response is increasingly essential in a media world where disinformation can rapidly take hold within social and offline communities.

  • Third parties are key in the fight against fake news 

Another key technique praised in the fight against fake news is the deployment of third-party partners to defend your brand. In a world of decreasing trust in large corporations and government, the ability to deploy third party stakeholders that may have a greater connection / relevance to your target audience can make the difference between fake news cutting through and not.  

  • Don’t be afraid to adapt your tone

You are rarely going to be managing a crisis scenario across one single communications platform. When building messaging and talking points remember to be mindful of how these may need to adapt in tone depending on the platform / audience you are reaching. Again, by not considering the audience you are engaging we can do more harm than good. 

  • Geopolitical tension is changing business leadership

All speakers present agreed that global brands are moving away from taking proactive stances / positions based on global geopolitical events. With many brand leaders not appreciating the impact of their own voice on diverse internal and external audiences. Again, this links back to values led leadership and the importance of brands and leaders being clear on the values they both represent and defend. Every business is different and therefore their response to world events will differ, however communicators must consider the complexity of a business’s operations, stakeholder group make-up and brand values to understand the authentic position for them.