No such thing as bad publicity? Five steps to getting it right

Top tips on protecting a brand

Domino's Pizza: YouTube furore over employees' antics
Domino's Pizza: YouTube furore over employees' antics

1. Pick the right spokespeople

Whether it is senior executives for your brand, spokespeople for your celebrity, or even celebrities to endorse your brand, you should ensure there is some synergy between those spokespeople and the values of the brand they are representing. If they are poles apart then no matter how hard you try you are still likely to run into difficulties.

2. Devise a code of conduct

Alice Clements, head of public relations at charity Sue Ryder, has recently put together a celebrity engagement programme. She says: 'As a care provider our reputation is extremely valuable to us. We work hard to make everyone who represents us understand what we view as unethical, immoral and illegal. We have drawn up a simple code of conduct that we agree with anyone who represents our brand. This is reinforced by frequent, open communication.'

3. Draw clear lines between public and private spheres

Brendon Craigie, CEO at Hotwire, points out that Twitter is littered with people who work for large companies and are freely talking about their private lives in ways that do not necessarily reflect well on their employers' brands: 'This can be very damaging and so we advise all our clients to issue clear social media guidelines.'

4. Train spokespeople

It has long been established practice to train spokespeople on how to engage with journalists, but increasingly they need social media training too. Tim Luckett, head of issues & crisis EMEA at Hill & Knowlton, works with brand representatives to help them understand how to use social media successfully. He says: 'We walk them through the social media landscape and use current examples such as Rihanna, Ryan Babel, Jack Wilshere, the Man City groundsman and so on to show how open Twitter conversations can be.'

5. Expect the worst

No matter how much you prepare, something will go wrong at some point. Tim Gibbon, director at media consultancy Elemental, says: 'Have a crisis plan in place so when something goes wrong, you know who is co-ordinating the response, who is responsible for which channels, and what everyone needs to do. Ensure you have monitoring tools so you are alerted immediately about articles, posts, or chatter about your brand.'

Domino's Pizza discovered the importance of monitoring the conversation in April 2009 when two employees at a North Carolina outlet filmed themselves putting cheese up their noses and passing wind on a pizza, then taking it out to customers. By the time Domino's was alerted to the resulting YouTube video it had already been viewed more than a million times and had reached the mainstream media.

 

HOW I SEE IT - Helen Beavis, director of consumer Speed Comms

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of managing reputation is making the judgement on what is acceptable and what is not. Unfortunately there are very few hard and fast rules to guide you. As Helen Beavis, director of consumer at Speed Communications, says: 'What's acceptable and what isn't is based on how far your fans are prepared to let you go. Heinz would not be thanked by its consumers for being rude or abusive but Russell Brand is heralded an irreverent genius when he's offensive. If behaviour is accepted by people because that's what they expect, and want to see, then this is when bad PR becomes good PR.'

She continues: 'Kerry Katona is the perfect example of a celebrity who went too far. It is one thing being a mess yourself, but when kids become involved that's where people draw the line. At the other end of the scale, the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross Sachsgate furore was a case of celebrities who got through a tricky situation and kept their reputation intact. Their behaviour was in character and didn't stray too far from those personality traits their fans love. It made their existing fans love them more.'

Reputation management feature

Five ways to manage the fallout

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