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Bad Actors and Crisis PR

Ken Gaebler

A business that is doing well can hit a wall and crash if another company in their industry does something stupid that tarnishes the image of the entire industry.

Crisis PR prevents bad actors from destroying an industry
How Can You Stop Bad Actors

from Destroying an Industry?


We see this happen all the time. Maybe it's a hedge fund Ponzi scheme that makes investors skeptical of every hedge fund. Maybe's it's a robo-dialing bad-actor marketer who makes everybody hate that unethical marketer's entire industry. Maybe it's a bad-actor funeral home that moves bodies illegally and makes every funeral home owner look bad. Maybe it's an errant group of religious leaders who commit sex crimes that give a bad name to the entire religion and its leaders.

So what can you do to avoid being victimized by a bad actor?

First and foremost, long before there is an industry crisis, make sure you and your organization are doing the right thing. Sure, there may be an industry crisis, but make sure that you are not the instigator of that crisis. Hire a third-party firm to conduct a Crisis Vulnerabilities Audit that looks for weaknesses in your organization and makes recommendations on how to improve. These audits make sure you are in compliance with federal, state and local rules and regulations. They will also ensure that you comply with industry best practices if they exist. Beyond complying with the rules, define ethical guidelines for your organization and promote an organizational culture that embraces good ethics. While the industry may one day have a PR crisis, your work now will put you in great shape to withstand the storm when it does come because you will be able to say "Those guys are not representative of the industry. Look at our track record and how we approach things."

Second, hire a PR firm to create a Crisis PR Plan. Don't wait for the crisis to happen. Do this now. Every decent-sized firm should have a plan in place to address a variety of possible crises. By doing this, you'll be ready to move quickly when the crisis starts. Don't just sit there and hope that nothing bad will happen. The adage "Hope for the best but plan for the worst" is the right way to think about crisis PR planning. Firms that have a plan in place and take a structured and reasoned approach to handling a crisis will significantly outperform their peers who just wing it.

Third, don't go it alone. There's a reason we have industry trade associations. If you don't have one, form one. An industry trade association can define industry best practices and implement certification programs that allow firms to raise their hand to the public with a loud "Look at us, we conform to the rules. We are not bad actors." When an industry is threatened by bad actors, it's the industry trade association that should do the heavy lifting to turn things around and get back to positive territory.

Fourth and finally, make sure you get your messaging down. The standard approach for handling a bad-actor scenario, in which a very small group of firms tarnish the reputation of an entire industry, is to communicate four important messages: 1) this is a good industry that people value; 2) the bad actors are not representative of the industry; the vast majority of us play by the rules; 3) as an industry and as individual firms, we are taking steps to clean things up; and 4) progress is being made. Once you've got the messaging platform defined (with proof points to back it up), get that message to market. There are plenty of good marketing firms and good PR firms that can help you with this.

By following these simple steps, you can avoid a potential disaster in which your business (or even an entire industry) is destroyed because of the actions of a few bad actors.

By the way, if you need help with executing this plan, Walker Sands has a very strong Chicago Crisis PR practice that can help you.

So what's your take on how companies and industries should deal with a situation in which bad tactors tarnish an entire industry's reputation? Please share your own crisis PR tips and advice. All feedback, questions and suggestions are welcome!