Once reputation is at risk, so is money. That’s when companies turn
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Public opinion plays by a different set of rules than the courts of law when it comes to innocent until proven guilty.

From celebrity scandals to corporate blunders, crisis communication is a cornerstone of public relations. It’s a specialty of PR to protect a company’s reputation because a blow to a brand’s image has real financial repercussions.

But what are the necessary steps to take in response to scrutiny? Is there anything you can do to avoid making these mistakes? Helping to make sense of crisis management are four public relations executives.

Experts recommend a wait-and-see approach in the beginning of a crisis communication strategy to ensure that communications are effective.

There is a lot of pressure to respond quickly. It is important to anticipate the reaction from naysayers and to prepare a few steps in advance,” said Ben Kaplan, founder and CEO of Top Agency, a global crisis management agency.

“You have to evaluate: ‘Is this story going to die or is this going to continue to take off?’ said Lauren Jennings, executive vice president and crisis communications strategist for Alison Brod Marketing and Communications, which handles PR for household brands like L’Oréal and Panera. “The red flag alert for us is when the narrative direction has the potential to have an immediate impact on sales.”

If outrage continues to spiral, it is important to set the record straight as soon as possible, rather than waiting to play defense. “Once the story is out there it’s much harder to control,” said Jennings. “If you do go out with a statement, you have to assume there’s going to be a news cycle around that narrative, (so) it has to be worth it to get the right story out there.”

Rather than playing defense, anyone facing backlash should be proactive in addressing controversy, said Evan Nierman, founder and CEO of Red Banyan, a firm specializing in crisis PR. “You can’t sit back and just listen or watch, you have to become an active participant in the discussions where (they) are happening.”