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When reputational risk and stakeholders are your best friends

|January 27, 2023
When reputational risk and stakeholders are your best friends

January 9th and 10th were difficult days at work for CF Montréal, which in the space of less than 24 hours announced the hiring and firing of Sandro Grande as head coach of the reserve team. CF Montréal management has publicly expressed its lack of sensitivity towards, and gross underestimation of, the comments and actions of the man in question several years ago. It should be briefly recalled that the former Montreal Impact player, who had made controversial and inappropriate comments after the attack at Metropolis in 2012, had been strongly denounced, notably by Premier François Legault and Parti Québécois leader, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon. The subject having been covered extensively in Quebec by the media and on Twitter, there is no need to go back over the facts and the context of this crisis management, which should serve as a lesson not to be repeated.

Rather, our aim is to take a step back, to draw some lessons, to raise some points and advice, which apply to any type of organisation wishing to make a public appearance.

From the start, when you prepare a communication, whether it is aimed at your internal or external audiences, a reputational risk mapping is necessary, because the simple fact of communicating a message and underestimating its landing is obviously not acceptable in the age of instantaneity and hyperconnectivity in which we evolve. Have you taken a step back to question the angle of approach and the level of conviction of your message? Have you checked that the values conveyed through your message are those to which your audience subscribes? Have you measured the potential impact of your ad on your reputation, in other words, the reaction of your target audience?

If the answer is no, go back to the drawing board and develop your reputational risk map, incorporating any blind spots that you would not want to have to correct, after the fact.

You want to take your preparation a step further. A strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities (SWOT) analysis will add a layer of caution and could save you from an outcry that could result in a media crisis, a digital crisis or worse, both. I will always remember a professor I met when I was a student of public relations, who described our profession as an art that gives us the opportunity to communicate great things. With the years of experience, I still agree with this statement, but never forget that the opposite can also happen. The most recent CF Montréal saga is an example of this and will remain in our collective memory for some time to come.

This quote from Warren Buffet is still very relevant today:

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.

Once this part is completed, you also need to think about the various stakeholders who will be affected by your message. A few questions should be asked. First, do we have a mapping or snapshot of our stakeholders? Have we categorised their level of enthusiasm or interest in our organisation, by which I mean favourable, neutral or negative? Are we able to engage in conversation with most of the stakeholders in our playground to mobilise them? Is it realistic to set the table with our network of allies (internal and external) and even equip them with some highlights of our message to ensure a soft landing when your message goes public? As with reputational risks, if your success rate on these questions is on the negative side, I strongly suggest you save time, and develop your approach to stakeholders which I like to call a dashboard to know your ambassadors well and keep your potential detractors even closer.

I'll leave you with this seemingly simple advice, yet it pays off: when in doubt, it's better to question yourself, take a step back, and adapt your game plan, since deconstructing a story that you had control of in the first place is perilous and the court of public opinion could make you bear the brunt.