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Are you prepared for a PR crisis? Five steps to protect your reputation in 2015

Are you prepared for a PR crisis? Five steps to protect your reputation in 2015

When it comes to the business planning lists for 2015 drawn up by CEOs and Managing Directors, preparing a reputation management response probably does not feature.

Why should it? There are more pressing matters to deal with for the future growth and success of a company to concentrate on over the next 12 months.

Investment in talent and tech, development of ideas and contacts and the drive for new business may all be considered far more important, particularly as the country continues on the road of recovery.

Crisis management can represent the ugly side of running a business.

Click here to download our free Reputation Management Media Training eBook

With the gloss still gleaming on the New Year, business leaders can be forgiven for not wanting to darken their door with thoughts of how they could be attacked in the media over events taking place at the company.

Some may even believe that a media crisis cannot be planned for, that punches can be rolled with and when and having a strategy in place makes no difference.

The truth is, a jarring as it is, considering what you and your company would do in the face of a media storm is a business imperative.

The reason for this is a crisis can affect all of those planning elements which are referenced above.

If the answer to the question “Do we have a crisis plan?” is ‘no’, now is probably the time to address it.

If you don’t have a crisis plan, you can’t answer the most important question: What do we do, or who do we call, in a crisis?

While crises can differ, the truth is, most can be planned for in advance.

Crisis and reputation management is a Public Relations discipline which requires expertise and part of that expertise is the planning process.

With scrutiny of businesses at an all-time high, it is no good to simply believe a crisis won’t affect you.

No business runs completely smoothly. True, not all situations will lead to a media crisis, but it is worth being prepared.

To help prepare for 2015, below is a five-point checklist which we advise business leaders to consider:

1: What is on the horizon for 2015 which may trouble you in dealing with? Do you have any potential issues with employees, suppliers, products or business deals which you feel may escalate?

2: What interest has your company had from the press and media? You may have been fortunate enough to have been written about in the national press. This raises your profile and makes smaller matters more interesting. Even if you have not experience national coverage, your trade or regional publications might be interested in a negative story on you. Some of the most damaging stories can come from regional and trade publications as they are the ones closest to your business.

3: How would you communicate with other stakeholders? This includes your employees. Do you have a plan for internal communications in the event of a crisis?

4: Who you will call for external advice? Often, a third-eye is needed when forming a plan and managing crisis response. External consultants have the knowledge and expertise to deal with all manner of media crises, and their expertise comes with the ability to be more objective than a team which may be more emotionally tied up with the situation. They can also provide a barrier between you and the media.

5: Don’t be scared to ask for help in planning for crises. You may never need to activate the plan, but it is preferable to have one and not need it, rather than the other way round.

Five celebrities who must avoid a PR crisis in 2015

Fame is a transient construct. You can never get too comfortable in the world of showbiz. One minute you’re at the top of your game…a critically lauded album at Number one, a movie dominating the international film charts, a tour that’s filling stadia all over the world…but all it takes is one flippant, off the cuff remark, one poorly thought out comment to create a ripple effect that changes the tide of public perception.

In a split second, you can fall from hero to zero and the media turns from once ‘making you’ to now ‘breaking you’.

Click here for reputation management advice from leading crisis PR experts

We’re all human, we’re all guilty of making impulsive remarks and this is why the wisest of celebrities grasp the importance of retaining clued-up PR and crisis management advisors. So when their own actions engender a negative, critical response, their media advisors can tailor an appropriate mea culpa and create lots of new positive press to displace the negative that’s doing the rounds.

As we ease ourselves into 2015, I wanted to reflect on five high profile individuals whom I feel could benefit from a spot of attitude adjustment in the New Year. Individuals with real talent and something to offer who could win over a lot more people if they simply warrant a little more thought to the words they put out there.

Number one: Katherine Heigl

Image Courtesy of Sprifituel quotes,

Image Courtesy of Sprifituel quotes,

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Queen of Thursday Night US TV Shonda Rhymes made a telling remark. Referring to the most watched drama on US network TV at the moment, she commented that “there are no Heigls” allowed on the set of Scandal. A reference to Katherine Heigl, who starred in Rhymes’ first TV smash, Grey’s Anatomy.

A landmark character back in the early days, speculation was rife when Heigl left the show. Was her refusal to throw her name in the hat for Emmy consideration interpreted as a negative indictment of the material she was given on the show? Or did she think she was too big for the small screen now her movie career was skyrocketing? Heigl’s negative image, however, escalated incrementally after a highly publicised interview with Vanity Fair, in which she talked about the movie Knocked Up.

Widely considered to be the film that propelled her to A-List status and an A-List salary, Heigl branded the movie “a little sexist”, claiming that the film “paints the women as shrews, as humourless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys”.

Heigl’s comments catalysed a media storm with people attacking her for seemingly biting the hand that feeds her. But, for every mistake, there is a potential for growth, and Heigl responded very graciously to the recent Rhymes interview, expressing her hope that she can change the acclaimed producer’s opinion of her.

Back on TV with new NBC espionage thriller State of Affairs, Heigl is clearly an intelligent, gifted and highly capable actor and producer. She just needs to choose her words more carefully so she doesn’t alienate future employers!

Number two: Shia LaBeouf

Image Courtesy of Nessa Silva,

Image Courtesy of Nessa Silva,

I think people USED to think that Shia LaBeouf was pretty well adjusted for a former child star. And the Hollywood studios certainly approved his transition to leading man status when his movies began to open at number 1 at the box office. Lately though, the strange behaviour has proven a little hard to ignore. Stepping out in public with a bag over his head scribed with the words ‘I am not famous anymore’, prompted many to question what the hell was going on.

Then there were plagiarism accusations and most recently he interrupted a performance of Cabaret by smoking, shouting at the cast and patting star Alan Cumming on the backside! When the police were called, LaBeouf allegedly shouted, “F#!* you…This is f#!*#!*bulls#!* Do you know my life? Do you know who the f#!* I am?”.

Behaviour like this will catalyse m,. the big studios into thinking you’re a liability…and if you’re perceived as a liability in Hollywood, your job prospects will suffer. A bit of time out to recalibrate will certainly do LaBeouf the world of good right now.

Number three:  Reese Witherspoon

Image Courtesy of Attit Patel,

Image Courtesy of Attit Patel,

I love Reese Witherspoon, I really do, she’s a fine actor, she has masterfully immortalised some cracking characters on the silver screen in the past and Gone Girl proved that she has a formidable talent for producing really compelling material. But…I can’t help but think that the quality and the integrity of the roles she has taken on in the last couple of years have been somewhat questionable.

The association that I’m making is that ever since she was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for getting belligerent with the arresting officer, the movies she has starred in seem to be less talked about. Questioning the authority of the police officer wasn’t a smart move, but asking him if he knew who she was!? A major celebrity faux-pas that comes across as insanely obnoxious. Reese apologised for her conduct but at the end of the day, a celebrity is a brand and the incident certainly damaged her brand perception. If celebs want to be top of the list when it comes to edgy, innovative and challenging scripts that are sent out by the studios, a little humility goes a long way!

Number four: Kanye West

Image Courtesy of Ashish Bhatnagar1,

Image Courtesy of Ashish Bhatnagar1,

You’ve got to laugh at Kanye West, he comes up with some classic one-liners: “I am God’s vessel. But my greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.” (VH1Storytellers); “I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph.” (Reuters); “And the thing is, for me to say I wasn’t a genius, I would just be lying to you and to myself.” (Jimmy Kimmel Live).

Up until fairly recently, Kanye has always been able to justify the egotism because of the quality of his music. But the combination of a heavily-flaunted marriage with Kim Kardashian and an ever-increasing arrogance and lack of modesty may have taken its toll on the fans’ patience. The last studio album, Yeezus, in my opinion, was a cracking album! Audacious, experimental and different. And the rave reviews are totally warranted. But, one can’t overlook the fact that the album did not perform as well commercially in comparison to his previous studio releases. The mixed reaction from the public is reflected in its sales. It debuted at the top of the Billboard but units shifted quickly waned and the sales figures marked his lowest solo opening week sales in the US.

Projected to sell half a million copies in its first week, sales fell below industry forecasts and label expectations. Sure, an alternative marketing approach, early leaks and internet piracy probably didn’t help but at the end of the day, to stay relevant, mainstream and popular, you need to keep the fans – the people that spend money on your brand – onside. And a good attitude really helps.

Number five: Amy Pascal

Image Courtesy of noticias seguridad,

Image Courtesy of noticias seguridad,

I conclude my list with Amy Pascal, the Sony Picture Entertainment bigwig at the centre of THAT email hack which dominated the international news agenda at the end of 2014.

The hack caused considerable humiliation, not only to Pascal, but to Sony as an entire company. E-mails between Pascal and producer Scott Rudin were peppered with critical comments levied at Angelina Jolie, with Rudin referring to her as “a minimally talented spoiled brat”.

The photo of Pascal encountering Jolie for the first time after those emails surfaced spoke volumes. Simply put, it was toe-curling, you could cut the tension with a knife. In another email exchange with Rudin, Pascal suggested that President Obama would especially enjoy the movies Django Unchained and The Butler. One can understand why news reports were quick to brand Pascal as “racially insensitive” and “racist”. My advice to Pascal moving forward?

Well, actress Lisa Kudrow has hit the nail on the head in my opinion: “Don’t write anything you don’t want broadcast”.

Court ruling may help clients reclaim reputation management costs

Reputaton management The PHA Group

‘image courtesy of patparslow in Flickr’

Suffering a wrongful attack in the media which leads to reputational harm is more often than not a highly damaging experience.

Whether it is a business or an individual, the loss of custom, revenue, respect and social standing, can be devastating.

Then there are the financial costs of seeking redress and repairing the damage caused.

Public Relations professionals would always advocate that crisis and reputation management should begin from the outset and be preventative rather than a cure.

The old adage of “once the horse has bolted” is clichéd, but rings true when it comes to the media and crisis prevention, particularly in the age of the internet when the flames of one story can quickly be flamed and spread across Google in a flash.

Employing lawyers and public relations consultants is an added expense.

The recoverability of legal costs are covered by rules laid out in a set of guidelines commonly termed the Jackson Reforms, which came into play last year and received attention outside of the legal profession during the publicity surrounding the early rounds of the now famous Andrew Mitchell libel trial.

But to most, the costs of hiring public relations professionals to help restore reputation would seem to be a spend that, despite it being an absolutely vital investment, could not be recovered in monetary terms.

However, a little-known court judgment handed down at London’s High Court recently could be set to influence that.

It came following a trade libel case brought by one UK company which battled against a campaign waged against it by a group of defendants.

The company sought PR advice to help it repair damage caused by the slurs. The reputation management work proceeded over 12 months in a bid to retain customers.


At the end of the case, which was won by default by the company, the judge ruled that the money spent by the company on its PR firm were recoverable damages.

Mr Justice Parks said that he had “no difficulty in concluding that…..the cost of employing a public relations consultant to undo some of the reputational damage which the first claimant suffered…. are recoverable as reasonable mitigation.”

This meant that the money spent on the PR campaign would, be the order of the court, be recoverable from the losing side.

It added to damages which totalled more than £400,000, including some £240,000 in profits which had been found to be lost as a result of the reputational attacks on the company.

Of course, not all reputation management matters end up as libel trials, and this judgment would only be relative to matters which have proceeded to court and a libel hearing.

Lawyers, and indeed Public Relations professionals worth their salt, would only advise on litigating to seek redress only if that course of action was absolutely necessary.

Nor should those who have suffered reputational harm take it as read that they will always be able to recover costs of PR if they end up using those who have libelled them.

But this judgment is important as it means the PR costs have been recognised by a judge as being a cost which can be recovered by way of damages from the other side. It is down to a clients’ legal team to argue the case and claim for the PR costs as part of the case.

As lawyers and public relations professionals often work in tandem when fighting to restore a mutual clients’ reputation, the judgment is worth noting in case the battle ends up in court.

How legal PR can help you protect your reputation

Crisis PR – When it comes to legal cases, how do you handle PR?


Litigation is a fact of business or corporate life – and can represent a reputational PR issue.

The very nature of doing business deals, particularly where contracts are involved, does mean that sometimes, parties can fall into dispute with each other.

Figures released in 2014 showed the number of cases at the Commercial Court – the division at London’s High Court which handles disputes between companies – had risen.

Some 1,353 cases were launched in the previous 12 months compared with 1,167 in 2012.

The number of cases was seen to rise in the economic downturn, with one reason given that companies adopt a tougher approach when it comes to business deals which have gone wrong than in times of prosperity.

Whether suing or being sued, litigation has a strong Public Relations element.

It means PR consultants can become, at times, as important as the legal team.


The need for PR

The main reason is that courts in the UK are public. That means certain documents, hearings and trials are open to journalists to report on and make stories out of.

For large companies which the media like to focus on, being involved in a trial can bring further press attention.

A particularly unique or interesting case, if it comes onto the radar of the court reporters who operate at the High Court, can also get picked up.

But smaller companies, too, need to be aware of the PR implications as trade magazines and various internet sites can also carry interesting court copy.

This means various elements of a business’ dealings are consumed by the reading public, and this could mean they are digesting information about an alleged breach of contract, breach of confidentiality or a consumer issue.

This means reputation management PR is incredibly important.


What your PR should be doing for you

Hoping no one will write about your legal case is not an option. Being prepared is a necessity.

Even if you are the claimant (i.e. the party suing the defendant) there are reputational issues to manage with a solid communications plan which takes into account the various rules and stages of the court process.

Magnus Boyd, a Partner at City law firm Hill Dickinson, tells PHA Insights: “The legal strategy must always sit within the broader communications context of reputation management for the client.

“Lawyers are often tempted to say as little as possible through the legal process and fail to recognise the harm that silence can cause. Often it is the lack of information that convicts a business in the public eye rather than the legal process.

“Too often PRs feel uncomfortable about managing the communications surrounding litigation and yet their role can be vital to the successful outcome of the litigation.

“But their input is incredibly important to the wider picture and company should look to its PR consultants to support it in various ways at this difficult time.”

While the legal team may wish to stay silent throughout, a business’s PRs need to have a communications plan firmly in place. You need to know what to say, what you can say, and when is the best time to say it.

Communications cannot help a company win the case, but it can help them during the process and in dealing with the media and other stakeholders.

By way of a simple check-list, a business entering litigation or even notified that it may be something they will need to deal with in the near future, should be asking the following questions:


  • What are the PR implications of the court action? Which journalists will be interested and how will it affect day-to-day business?
  • Is the company prepared to deal with the media direct or do we need external help? Do your existing or in-house PRs have the necessary experience?
  • Are my existing or new PR advisers aware and have they been put in touch with the legal team? They should be engaged from the earliest stage possible in order to be able to analyse the risk and put in place a communications plan.
  • If we lose, what do we say? If we win, what do we say and more importantly, how do we say it, who says it and where do we say it?
  • Do you need media training for after the trial and are you confident with the general process?
  • What are the next steps following the end of the case?

The process can be quite a complicated journey but it is one which Public Relations can help with.

Consistency of message from the start of the litigation all the way to trial is vital which is why PR support is vital at every stage of the process.

One key point to remember is if a piece of PR litigation is executed with know-how and skill, you can still win the PR war even when the legal battle has been lost.