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Reputational risk: When should you implement your crisis strategy?

risk meter with the pointer on high

In today’s high stakes media environment, where one comment, rumor or fake news item can damage a brand’s reputation in record time, having a crisis strategy is a must-have for every communications department. For comms professionals, however, reputational risk management presents another challenge — being able to distinguish a serious potential crisis from isolated negative media coverage.

When is it necessary to implement your crisis protocol? Below are some tools that could help you answer these questions:

The data: the canary in the coal mine for comms professionals

Nowadays, making decisions without having tangible and clear metrics is like trying to measure the speed of the wind by lifting one finger. Having a media monitoring tool that allows you to track the performance of your media coverage is crucial. The collected data gives you an opportunity to have a broad view of the perception of your brand. For instance, which media outlets cover your brand the most? Which ones are hostile and which ones are allies? Which are the most visible topics related to your brand?

Data can also provide you with an idea of how your industry (stakeholders, competitors, suppliers) is perceived by the general public. Having this information will help you establish a benchmark and determine the difference between what is normal coverage and what is out of the ordinary. Monitoring your own industry provides a point of reference.

Determining clear and measurable KPIs

Based on the data collected by your monitoring tool, you will be able to set some key performance indicators (KPI) that will show when it is time to activate your crisis strategy.

Here are some KPIs that could help you determine if you are facing a reputational crisis:

The sentiment

Negative coverage is not always synonymous with crisis. In some industries or domains, it is normal to have a certain percentage of constant negativity, especially in services intended for a very large clientele. So, how can you determine yours? It depends on your industry. Constant and judicious measuring of the sentiment toward your brand (products, spokespersons, leaders, related brands, etc.), as well as your industry (competitors, stakeholders) can give you a baseline of an acceptable negative percentage.

If there is such a thing, of course.


Receiving negative coverage from the most widely-read newspaper is not the same as being blasted by a barely known blog on the internet. Similarly, receiving a negative tweet from a user with 200 followers will not have the same impact as receiving one from someone with 3,000 followers. Being aware of the reach of negative coverage is key to determining the existence of a real reputational threat. Before taking any action, it is important to assess the reach and set an acceptable threshold to predict whether more media will replicate the information or not.


Negative coverage in the most widely-read newspaper is never a good sign, but the real question you should be asking is: Will the story attract the attention of other media outlets? Will it last? Sometimes negative stories have a very short lifespan. Taking precautions before releasing a press release is highly recommended. An official communication too early may prolong the life of a negative story by sharing with the media more information than is necessary.

Choose your battles, keeping in mind that sometimes silence is the best solution for negative coverage that won’t last too long. How to determine if the coverage has legs? Keep a close eye on the metrics, watching the evolution of the story. How many media outlets have replicated the story, during how long a span? Is the story gaining traction, or is the public losing interest? Use data to track the coverage.

To conclude: Dissecting the data

To be prepared for a crisis situation, the immediacy imposed by the digital age requires comms pros to monitor and analyze in real-time the visibility of their brand. A good monitoring plan used in conjunction with rigorous data analysis that considers KPIs can enlighten any team as to how and when they should activate their communication crisis protocol.


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