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Blog post
March 25, 2020

Three Lessons On How To Build A Positive, Long-Term Reputation In Times Of Crisis

Coronavirus has captured the headlines for the past three months. It has received not only the complete attention of the World Health Organization (WHO) but also governments across six continents. While this crisis has yet to slow down, it has revealed lessons in building a long-term reputation for public and corporate communications professionals.

North and Southeast Asia were the first to be impacted. As communications measurement professionals located in this region, my team and I recently released case studies on some of the most reputable brands fighting coronavirus in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand, based on mainstream media reporting and social media conversations on the novel coronavirus.

Here’s what today’s communications professionals can learn from these crisis management and reputation insights:

1. Build a positive reputation with a data-driven strategy.

It isn’t easy to create a combat plan when a crisis changes every day. But regularly updating your target audience with insights from the changing situation and follow-up mitigation steps can provide much-needed breathing space for the crisis plan.

An admirable example of an evolving data-driven crisis strategy that builds a better reputation comes from the Singapore government’s handling of coronavirus. WHO praised Singapore for leaving no stone unturned when reporting new cases and adopting a data-driven contact tracing strategy to identify others.

Data analysis of developing crises also helps people and organizations take timely actions to put the right policies in place for the future. While observing emerging data on the rising number of cases in the U.K., the government recently passed the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 to help authorities with the power to restrict people at risk of spreading the virus enforce appropriate quarantine procedures.

As communicators keep a close eye on developing data, they should not feel any shame in accepting that a crisis is still unfolding and that the mitigation plan comes from emerging insights. Early but confident communication on a growing crisis signals that you are authentic in the way you reach out to your audience. Sharing learnings from past data on a similar crisis also assist in creating a robust combat plan that positively impacts reputation.

2. Stick to the core of your internal culture.

Companies that adapt their offerings to suit a crisis can boost their reputation for the long-term. As a result, employees feel that they are helping with the crisis situation and stand tall with their companies.

Such a positive culture was displayed in heaps by the ride-hailing services provided by Grab, Gojek and Didi, which offered to drive home health care workers fighting coronavirus. While ride-hailing drivers are technically part of these companies, even they felt a sense of purpose helping health care workers return home to their loved ones after another hard day of fighting the crisis.

Airlines are losing billions of dollars amid this crisis. AirAsia relied on their safety procedures and disciplined cabin crew to bring home stranded nationals from Wuhan. Thinking about outside communities that may not be part of your target audience and providing assistance through your products or services not only boosts employee morale but also generates a positive momentum within your organizational culture.

Inspiring leadership is equally important to the core of your internal culture. In the government sector, Singapore’s leadership displayed solidarity in its culture by offering a bonus for public officers on the front lines fighting the crisis. At the same time, the members of the parliament took one-month pay cuts. Significant steps by leadership teams can help inject a wave of positivity within the organization and improve the company’s reputation in the eyes of its employees.

3. Put the customer’s interests first.

Reputable companies find creative ways to meet their end goal of putting customers first, even during times of crisis. They often draw from previous crisis experiences that reflect resilience.

For example, KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks offered “contactless” pickup and delivery to ensure that customers can still enjoy their food services without risking their health and safety. Drawing resilient learnings from war and epidemics, JD.com leveraged emerging technologies to employ drones to deliver groceries to the affected areas. Keeping customers first, in turn, helps companies attain top-of-mind status among their customers. It also increases customer interaction and helps companies further understand customer challenges during a crisis.

With the potential vaccine at least a year away, controlling the coronavirus outbreak boils down to governments and corporations working together. But, as with any crisis, those who develop an evolving, data-driven crisis strategy, strong internal culture and customer-first delivery will not only help society cope better but also emerge with a positive reputation after the dust settles.

Post written by Prashant Saxena
Head of Insights, Asia at Isentia; Vice-chair, APAC for AMEC (International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) and published on Forbes: https://bit.ly/3bE8xlp

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