Opinion by Janine Lazarus, Director of Janine Lazarus Media Consultancy
There are a few things in life that are unavoidable. One of them is paying your tax – although there are those in high places who seem to slither their way out of that one.
Another sure thing is that you are bound to face a crisis at some point in your life. It’s as inevitable as night turning into day – although it is not nearly as gentle nor as pretty.
Ford, Spur and Jacaranda FM are just a few of the brands in South Africa that have recently been engulfed by reputational issues. And with each and every one of these organisations, what was sorely lacking during the eye of the proverbial storm was sound crisis management.
As the foundation around KPMG collapses – once viewed as the bastion of good corporate governance – it is indisputable what power the media wields. One wrong move, an improperly thought out decision, or a public utterance that should have been kept behind closed doors, can make or indeed break a long-standing reputation.
And, like a tornado spiralling out of control, everything in its path suffers irreparable damage. Apart from the inevitable dire impact on the bottom line, public support wanes, and the livelihood of an organisation’s employees and their families get caught in fall out.
In a society mired in corruption and balancing on a knife-edge of ratings downgrades, reputation management is fast gaining ground. High-end individuals and organisations are being placed increasingly under public scrutiny.
And despite the fallibility of each and every one of us as individuals, when you are catapulted into the public eye for all the wrong reasons, it’s the public who demands transparency, honesty and ethical conduct, as flawed as we may all be.
The culture of impunity is being drowned out by deafening public demand that individuals and organisations have to face the music.
So how do you manage your reputation with everyone second-guessing your every move? It’s not an easy journey to make, but it’s a critical one.
As an old news hound, I’ve played the part of the bull terrier savaging hapless individuals on air. I’ve watched as flippant comments made on the spur of the moment have landed people in hot water with little chance of ever making it back onto solid ground.
I use this straight shooter methodology as a Media Trainer in an effort to gear my clients to be able to deal with even the most hostile of interviews. It’s no point in playing nice. Life gets real and it often isn’t very nice.
I’ve worked on both sides of the fence so I understand the length and breadth of a potential fall out and of the damage that can be done. So the evolution to work in the reputation management space has almost been part of my journey.
When a high-ranking corporate individual facing massive reputational damage reached out to me recently, I kicked into what I’ve learned in the trenches of the newsroom.
With scant time to prepare, my client faced the situation head-on. It was ugly in every sense of the word, but to my mind, we managed to diffuse the situation and restore the status quo, albeit only to some extent.
I shared my client’s pain of being dissected in the media and subjected to intense public scrutiny. Perhaps it wasn’t enough – but I did what I could to help. The storm is not yet over and probably won’t be for a long time, but we are hopeful that the worst of it has passed.
Face facts: It CAN and it WILL happen to you. If you are entrusted with your organisation’s reputation, then you are in control of its most valuable asset.
You cannot afford not to be ready or to lose the plot. We have to be smart, prepared and strategic. Our emotions should never dictate our actions.