Public relations and crisis management are strategic planning issues many credit union and bank executives fail to prioritize. Casey Boggs knows better than most just what ramifications that kind of neglect can have.

Casey, a public relations veteran, friend and colleague of many years, recently founded ReputationUs, a company dedicated to enhancing, protecting and defending your organization’s reputation. Our team sat down with him to visit about reputation and crisis management for financial institutions.

Q: What’s the difference between a decent reputation and a standout reputation? For example, the difference between an average community bank and Southwest Airlines.

A: First, saying and doing are two different things. For example, once you’ve made a claim that you’re stewards of the community and your existence is to help your customers or members thrive, then it’s the doing that matters.

Reputation management primarily comes down to listening to people. What are they saying about you, and does it match what you say about yourself?

Reputation also applies internally. If you’re recruiting and talking about your culture, great. But you need to prove it. Are people feeling that love or not? If not, then let’s correct it. If so, then let’s do more.

Look at Wells Fargo. They were a strong brand and had a reputation for great employees. But they were vulnerable. Sales tactics were never really in question. The problems started internally, and then the public started hearing about it. That’s a bad reputation. Now Wells Fargo is trying to self-correct what could have been done ahead of time. They weren’t communicating and instead were hiding the issue because crisis preparation didn’t happen.

It’s easy to knock on Wells Fargo, but a lot of companies have vulnerabilities. They don’t know what they don’t know. And that’s why crisis preparation and reputation management are critical, to find out what they don’t know and where vulnerabilities exist.

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen leaders make in regard to reputation management?

A: Communications. If you’re unaware of what your reputation is, then that’s your first strike. You might make the mistake of thinking everything is okay and not doing anything about it until it’s too late.

Once leaders do take the responsibility to understand their reputation, then communicating the issue to everyone internally is key. There must be unity. Reputation isn’t a marketing function, but rather a full team function. Dictating one thing is good, but listening is fundamental.

Q: What are the top things credit unions and banks can do to prepare for crisis and maintain positive reputation?

A: It’s different for both. For reputation management, conduct a thorough review of what’s being said internally and externally, and where there are vulnerabilities. This should take two to three months. Second, outline a plan to strengthen the reputation. Determine how you can approach the situation holistically, because everyone has to be on board. It should take three to six months to enhance the reputation and make sure you’re executing on the plan.

For crisis management, it’s common for credit unions and banks to have a task force to solve the problem, but not one to communicate the problem. Develop realistic scenarios and determine how to communicate with internal and external shareholders, including employees, vendors, customers or members, the board and the public. Developing the plan in the fog of war isn’t smart. You can’t quarterback it while the game is being played.

Q: When should an organization bring in a reputation consultant?

A: Now! It’s always best to be prepared. The most critical times to bring in a reputation consultant are when your organization is in transition, about to have new executive, during a merger or acquisition, or if you know something no one else knows. Having a third party makes sure everyone is all aligned. Confidential candor is especially helpful at these times.

Q: Where does reputation fit into branding?

A: They’re in the same ballpark, but with a big distinction. Branding is what you say you are. Reputation is what other people say you are. Are you okay with what they’re saying? Even worse, are they saying something negative or saying nothing at all?

Reputation is not something to be scared about, but it is something you should be aware of. Like branding, reputation management has ramifications for everyone.

Q: What are three proactive things credit unions and banks can be doing for reputation and crisis management?  

A:

  1. Understand what your current reputation is. Take the time to understand what’s being said internally and externally.
  2. Know where the vulnerabilities are within your credit union or bank and make a plan to correct them.
  3. Change your business culture as needed and always evolve to meet the opportunities in front of you.

Lastly, ask these three questions: “What happens if?” “What don’t we know?” “What does the future hold?” Reputation management and crisis preparation are key to the long-term success of your credit union or bank.

For more information on ReputationUs and the great work Casey and his team are doing, visit https://www.reputationus.com/.