Boards should be educated on being proactive with reputation, ING’s head of corporate affairs says

Boards of businesses and organisations have become more aware of the role public relations and reputation management plays in its business.

Speaking at today’s Public Relations Institute of Australia conference, the head of corporate affairs at ING Bank, David Breen, said boards need educating on how to be proactive in both reputation management and crisis communications.

“Boards absolutely understand from a crisis point of view how important that PR function is, they absolutely get that, what they need educating on is the value of proactive side of it,” Breen told the audience.

The head of corporate affairs at the challenger bank said being proactive versus reactive is “one of the biggest things” in protecting reputations, and if businesses have the opportunity and space to do so they absolutely should.

“You never know when the next crisis or issue is coming or when you need to be reactive, so if you’ve got clear space spend as much time as you can thinking about how proactive you can be in building your reputation.

Breen also asked businesses and agencies to think of reputation on a larger scale including products, services, leadership and employer brands.

“If you have the opportunity to be proactive, if you have that clear space jump on it,” he said.

The bank’s head of corporate affairs also called on those managing reputation and crisis communications to be braver.

“We can be braver. I cannot recall an instance where I’ve put myself at odds with another group of very senior people and, whether I have won that argument or not, there has not been one instance where I’ve thought ‘I shouldn’t have done that’, so that tells me that I should do it more often.

“Internally it is very easy to sit back and absorb and not be a bit of an agitator… but every single time as a communicator we have skills that no one else in the room has, and that’s something we have to remind ourselves of and that means we can be braver,” Breen said.

Catherine Payne, the executive director of digital and customer communications at Victoria Government’s department of Environment and Water agreed, stating in order to brave practitioners have to be very clear about their purpose.

“You have to be very clear on your purpose and very clear on your vision.”

“What have you got to lose by being bold and being brave?” Payne asked the audience.

Leaving the room of communication professionals with another piece of insight, Breen said “strategic silence” is a common denominator in the major PR crisis’ which have unfolded over the last few years.

“In looking at crises that have gone horribly wrong, there is a common denominator in every single one and that is that corporate silence at the start that goes on for too long and then once the silence is broken it is done inappropriately.

“I cannot think of a crisis in the last handful of years where that hasn’t been a factor,” Breen pointed out.

It ties into the bravery theme, Breen said, arguing corporates need to hear “speed is of the essence” from the communications or reputation management team.

Payne concurred with Breen saying any business going through a potential crisis should always “be on the front foot”.

“The earlier you can get on the front foot and be honest if you don’t have all the answers, people want the answers but you have to be able to display leadership and confidence early and be accessible and be very very purposeful in the updates you provide.

“As a comms team you need to be really connected into the business and be watching what’s happening and being responsive,” Payne concluded.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.