Halo or Horns? Which does your charity have in the public mind?
That was one of the questions posed by a fascinating discussion at CharityComms Brand Breakfast last week.
If you have a Halo and you make a mistake or something goes wrong, as Jill McCall, the senior brand manager at Cadbury’s explained, then the public will be very forgiving, their reaction will be:
‘Oh well, it was a mistake, everyone makes mistakes, they’re a good charity and good lots of good work.’
You’ll be a charity which has the public has a faith in, which they like, which they have built up trust in over a long period of time, and your reputation will not suffer.
If, on the other hand, you have Horns, then the reaction will be quite the opposite:
‘Well, they would do that wouldn’t they, what would you expect from them, they have a track record of making mistakes, I’ve heard about them mis-using public funds before …’
You’re an organisation which hasn’t built up a good reputation over a period of time, which the public has lost trust in, and which hasn’t been able to protect its brand.
Of course, being a charity, you’d definitely hope to have a Halo, but it is important to ‘bank’ goodwill over a long period of time, so that when something does go wrong, you have that to draw on, and are quickly forgiven for the problems.
Jill described how Cadbury has a good reputation, a long heritage of looking after it’s workers and suppliers and of corporate social responsibility, so that despite being prosecuted for a salmonella scare in April 2007, just months later it was still voted one of the country’s most trusted brand.
But she also warned that ethical behaviour had to be lived throughout an organisation, not just be a marketing ploy, and she advised charities facing a crisis to ensure that their response was:
Jill said they should assess potential risks in advance (do a crisis management audit), and if any were identified, act on them – the worst possible headline is:
‘They knew about the problem and did nothing’
The experience of Adrian Thomas, head of external relations at the British Red Cross, was that nowadays the media wouldn’t hesitate to run negative stories about charities, and that they were becoming more accountable within the media.
And that also, it didn’t take long for a small problem to snowball given the speed with which bad news can travel on social media.
He described how risks an sometimes come from the most unexpected quarters.
One would imagine a charity’s volunteers were their staunchest advocates, but on several occasions disgruntled Red Cross volunteers had gone to the press – generally if they’d got the wrong end of the stick about something – and caused huge problems.
The BRCS trod a fine line because of its stance on political and religious neutrality, which could easily be taken out of context – and which of course certain newspapers loved to blow out of all proportion.
His advice about how to respond to a crisis, echoed – and added to – Jill’s:
1. rapid rebuttal
2. demonstrate accountability
3. don’t get drawn into struggles you can’t win
4. condemn inappropriate behaviour.
The key message from both was that building up a good reputation for your charity over a period of time, remaining true to your values and protecting your brand as a charity were all vital, and would all stand you in good stead when problems arose.