Managing Brand Reputations associated with governments

What to do when your premium positioned beer brand is seen by locals as associated with a hatred government and local consumers talk about their dislike to a reporter, who writes for a foreign newspaper, with majority circulation in your home market?

As a company, how do you react when a local government uses your mobile network service to send unattributed pro-government text messages and instruct you to suspend services in some areas, so that they can stop pro-democracy protestors from organizing through social media? What do you do if the reporter publishes your brand’s name as the carrier of the messages without further explanation?

Both issues are undoubtedly interesting dilemmas for brands involved. When and how do you interact with the media?

There are two basic questions: firstly, how big is the potential reputation damage of the issue to the brand and the company and secondly, how big may this issue potentially grow?

Here are 10 considerations that might be helpful if your brand would end up in a similar situation:

  1. Understand the reporter’s motives. What is he/she trying to prove? What’s his/her interest in the story? What’s his/her angle? Who else besides you is he/she talking to?
  2. Buy enough time to connect with the right internal staff that gives you a good briefing of the situation. Which are the facts? What’s the issue, what are the different scenarios of the impact of your possible responses? What’s your desired outcome?
  3. Decide which spokesperson will convey best your message? Will it be the CEO, a corporate company spokesperson, or rather the local GM? It depends on the relationship with the reporter and if the issue should be considered local or on a corporate or global level.
  4. Your goal is to at least contribute to a factually correct and balanced story, so do all you can to find the positive spin.
  5. In case of a global brand, make sure you understand which media is likely to pick up the story once published. Although protecting your reputation is extremely important in your home market, you sell in more markets, where the issue might not exist.
  6. Provide timely, short, factual and relevant information to the reporter that explain your company’s role and actions or proof why the reporter or the media in general in your opinion has been poorly informed or misinformed.
  7. Never lie; never just simply deny things where a reporter can proof you’re wrong.
  8. Listen and learn from the reporter and if you would receive new information, it’s only fair if you buy a bit more time and check facts internally.
  9. Only do interviews when you have the opportunity to tell your side of the story. If your arguments are weak though, rather stick to a short, convincing, factual statement and accept possible unfavorable PR. Your contribution in these cases can only be limited (unless your goal is to feed yourself to the wolves..).
  10. Last but not least: If you don’t have a relationship with the reporter yet, make sure that you make it your priority.

Let me know if you would like to add to the list. What would your strategy be? E.g. can social media play a role for brands in these cases?

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