Employer Branding in a Crisis

When a crisis of trust hits the organization, the public relations machinery swings into top gear and tries to tame the media before they go on a rampage. In this mayhem, it is easy to forget that the bruises and dents also affect the employer brand. The most valuable employees of the organization may worry about future prospects and jump ship. Potential candidates may think harder before joining the firm. I was with a food and beverage company during such a controversy. That crisis taught me powerful lessons on how to protect the employer brand during a crisis. Leaders need to address this from two perspectives – the head and the heart.
Use facts to deal with emotions : Leverage the social media and not just the traditional: Employees often get the bad news from the business press and now, much more likely, from their social media channel. According to Nielsen, “During the daytime, Facebook has a reach comparable to or exceeding the four TV networks measured. For consumers ages 25-34, for instance, Facebook added up to an incremental 41% reach to the TV networks during the day.” No online spats please: Remind employees to not pick fights with detractors online. Share your facts not emotions.
Internal communication matters: Create a separate team to manage communication with employees. Arm them with facts and a few data points that they can remember while responding to any queries they might get from friends and family.
Reach out to stakeholder groups: Connect with search firms, placement coordinators at educational institutes and potential employees and ask for their help and advice. A major soft drink manufacturer had leveraged their ex-employees and asked for their help in dealing with a PR crisis.
Be transparent: In a connected world, the truth will emerge faster than we think. Let the communication be candid and transparent. That builds trust more than evading and dodging.
Passing the feelings test : When the “employer” reaches out to the employee for help during a crisis, their relationship is put to test. If they have seen the leaders walk the talk, they would have more faith in the leaders than what they read in the media. They will then leverage their own network to defend the brand. If their previous experience of the employer has been negative, they will be indifferent and uninvolved at best. The employees’ passion while defending the organization is the most powerful and credible weapon during a crisis. We do not defend in public what we do not deeply care about.
The leadership needs to take charge of the fact based communication especially to the external world, but it is the credibility of the employees’ voice that has the ability to protect the employer brand. The employer brand needs an army of brand ambassadors – the employees whose emotional bank can see the employer through any crisis. Brands thrive on consumer advocacy. Employer brands need to earn the employee’s trust every day.
Do you think that internal employee related communications are a distraction during a crisis? Have you seen examples of leaders succeeding in handling a crisis successfully even when they have ignored the employee related communications.

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