External image repair needs to start in-house

In this, the year of the crisis communications efforts, what's generated the most interest and coverage has been the consumer and media outreach efforts by affected corporations.

In this, the year of the crisis communications efforts, what's generated the most interest and coverage has been the consumer and media outreach efforts by affected corporations.

What tends to get lost is the key role internal communications plays during these crises.

The mortgage and real-estate industries may have taken more of a beating in the consumer and financial press than any other industry this year. During the summer, it seemed as if there was a new story every day about layoffs and companies closing their doors. Countrywide Financial, the largest mortgage-home lender in the US, was forced to layoff more than 10,000 employees due to the poor conditions of the market.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal first reported that Countrywide is working with Burson-Marsteller on a major PR effort to mend its image. However, the campaign will start with an internal push urging employees to fight back against media critics and providing them with wristbands that read "Protect Our House." Countrywide also sponsored motivational talks promising to sufficiently reward its most successful salespeople.

Last month, the United Auto Workers went on strike for two days at GM. While the threat of a strike was in the news for a while, internal communications efforts by GM got under way far in advance of it. Tony Cervone, VP of communications for GM North America, told PRWeek that creating a dialogue with employees helped everyone understand where each side was coming from, preventing an "us against them" atmosphere.

What consumers and the media think about a brand during a crisis is obviously important. But maintaining a level of internal morale and defining the forward path a company is taking for employees is equally vital. Without the support and belief of its employees, a company might as well shut down and call it a day.

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