Crisis Management: The road to reputational recovery and how to get there

Media coverage of a crisis can be devastating to reputations and highly unsettling for those in the front line of the fray. But with time and some cool-headed, strategic thinking, your organisation has the best chance of reputational recovery.

Your organisation has been in crisis. Almost everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong.

Negligence has led to the loss of a costly, high-profile court case. You have been roundly condemned by the industry’s regulator. Senior executives have resigned or been fired.

Internal systems and protocols – if you can call them that – have been shown to have failed in virtually every particular. Staff representatives are demanding urgent change and employees are venting their disaffection on social media. Stakeholders are jumpy, shareholders in revolt.

Given all of this, the media has your organisation in its sights: after all it was an undercover sting that set the crisis in train. Your brand is undeniably compromised, and it is natural to fear this damage might be irreparable. But with time and some cool-headed, strategic thinking, your organisation has the best chance of reputational recovery.

Where to start?

Start at the beginning. Make a conscious decision to put the waves of adverse publicity and boardroom blood-letting to one side for now. It is imperative you focus on the root causes of your organisation’s troubles.

To do this, you and everyone around you needs a clear head. Crises will often manifest in phases, each new revelation compounding the damage done by the last – this can seem to be particularly true where the media is involved.

Each new blow can cloud your thinking and keep you trapped in a defensive-reactive cycle, when what you need to do is move to strategic recovery mode.

Achieving the all-important objective overview is an enormous challenge for any executive team in a time of crisis, but it is essential if it is going to steer the business into the recovery phase.

Truth hurts – and heals

Begin with a review. Depending on the nature of the crisis, this might be conducted internally, or by independent advisers.

Independent reviewers provide not only a dispassionate perspective, they can also enhance credibility and act as a signal to the world outside, as well as to your own people, that the board is fully prepared to listen, learn and take decisive action.

When you commission a review, you must, however, be prepared for bad news. A forensically conducted audit will drill deep into the organisation, possibly exposing difficulties to do with culture, leadership, strategy and implementation.

A root and branch review can be painful, maybe even more than the crisis that precipitates it.

But hold your nerve – any home truths revealed will help set your recovery agenda. Without these insights, your organisation would be condemned to repeat its mistakes.

Review is also a way to involve the workforce in the turnaround process, rebuilding staff confidence in and goodwill for the business and its senior management.

That was then, this is now

The first phase of media coverage of your organisation’s crisis – when it’s all about exposure and revelation – can be devastating to reputations and highly unsettling for those in the front line of the fray. You may decide it is prudent to seek the advice of crisis-handling experts, who should be able to offer tailored support, strategic advice and some timely hand-holding.

It is certainly sensible to expect setbacks when attempting to rebuild reputation. Once you are on the media radar, there may well be follow-up coverage, with questions asked about ‘lessons learned’.

Greet any renewed interest as an opportunity to shift the narrative in a positive direction. Make the most of the appetite for public update. Promote the sense that your organisation’s performance, its leadership and its people have moved on. Explain progress with fact and verifiable evidence; highlight how the organisation has changed and show how it has done so.

This will help lay down new layers of coverage, which can only serve to advance your organisation’s rehabilitation.

Article written by Anthony Longden of Alder Media. Contact Anthony at

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Steffan Groch

Partner and Head of Regulatory - Head of Sectors

I head up DWF's national Regulatory team as well as leading the firm’s ‘go to market’ sector expertise. I am also Chair of the UK Health and Safety Lawyers Association.