It’s been quite a year for challenge and change; both in Canada, and around the world. The way organizations navigate these tumultuous times often has a coordinating affect on their reputations with customers, clients, investors, partners, government, communities and other publics.
When it comes to crisis communications response, it’s critical to be timely, transparent and truthful. These principles can make or break the resulting hit or boost to a brand.
In our annual 2022 recap, we’ve included a couple of the biggest reputation losses and wins from 2022 and what we can take away from them as leaders and communications professionals. Whether you’re a business owner, marketer, or simply interested in the topic, there’s something to be learned from the way these individuals and organizations responded.
A full analysis of the drama that was Twitter this year would take much more than a paragraph or an article to recap. In fact, I’m sure there is a book being written about it right now. But if anyone hasn’t heard yet, Elon Musk bought Twitter this year, following months of announcing, recanting, misdirecting, threatening, lawyering and finally, settling. What has taken place since has been more of the same chaos: layoffs being shared on social media in real time, leaked memos, ruling by fear and uncertainty, criticisms of creating more space for hate speech and disinformation, all which drove advertisers and their revenue away from the platform. The damage hasn’t been to Twitter alone either; since its November 2021 peak, Tesla has lost almost $900 billion in shareholder value. The next year will likely decide Twitter’s fate, with, or without, Musk at the helm.
2. Hockey Canada
Hockey Canada’s poor attempts to bury its reputation issues earns it a spot on the losses list. The full story is a heavy history of quiet payouts and investigations that didn’t go very far until this Spring, when Hockey Canada reached a settlement with a young woman over an assault allegation from 2018 (CBC’s article is a solid overview of the scandal; warning that it contains graphic details that may be disturbing). The investigation revealed a history of sexual misconduct cases raised against the organization, and that the organization had spent C$7.6M out of a “National Equity Fund”, funded partially via player registration fees, to help pay out settlements in 21 sexual misconduct cases since 1989.
Hockey Canada faced widespread and extremely harsh international criticism from partners, players, staff, fans, the public, sponsors and government officials for its egregious mishandling of allegations of sexual assault and misconduct. The organization made serious reputation management errors in the response to the allegations from top executives and the board of directors. In public statements, the organization’s leadership repeatedly denied wrongdoing in multiple instances, and ignored months of calls for their resignation, wholly disregarding public perception and sentiment. The response from Hockey Canada conveyed both a lack of transparency and accountability to media, stakeholders and the general public, at large.
3. Bell Media
Lisa LaFlamme was unexpectedly removed from her role as news anchor of CTV National News on August 15, 2022. Bell Media terminated LaFlamme’s contract early, citing a “business decision.” LaFlamme was allegedly asked to keep her termination confidential from colleagues and the public but later posted a video statement from her personal Facebook and Instagram accounts. Her sharing of the news online was followed by a press release from CTV News.
The sudden termination of LaFlamme prompted anger, confusion and speculation both internally and externally. CTV News employees have raised questions about whether ageism and sexism could have played roles in LaFlamme’s termination. Staff members criticized CTV News’ lack of clear communication regarding LaFlamme’s surprise departure internally. Furthermore, CTV News’ response received widespread and international criticism for its lack of timely, transparent communications with relevant stakeholders.
Enter Dove. From a brand that has led a almost two-decade-long campaign for “real beauty”, this was a moment to shine. Within days of the announcement of LaFlamme’s departure, and the resulting PR backlash formed of claims of ageism and sexism, Dove launched #KeepTheGrey, posting that it was turning their logo grey, and making a donation to a non-profit dedicated to inclusive workplaces for all women. It invited Canadians to do the same and spurred an online social movement generating support for LaFlamme, positive sentiment with target audiences, in a way that was meaningful and authentic to its brand.
2. Victoria’s Secret
The global lingerie retailer, long known for its promotion of unattainable body images, has embarked on a journey to overhaul its brand, following years of criticism, which culminated in the cancellation of its televised fashion show (also the massive groundswell following the release of 2022’s “Victoria’s Secret”, by artist Jax). They needed a win, and this came in the form of Sofía Jirau, who became the first VS model with Down syndrome, as part of the company’s Love Cloud Collection inclusion campaign. The retailer received praise from the public, and the campaign, which also features models different skin tones, sizes and ages, secured positive response from traditional and social media as well.
Airbnb is no stranger to issues management, but the company did not shy away from taking a strong stance on a global social cause when it announced on February 28, 2022 that it would offer free, temporary housing for Ukrainian refugees. While they do encounter some logistical delays in placing people in the rentals and vetting hosts, the program is overwhelmingly supported by hosts, non-profits and NGOs, celebrities and the public, as evidenced by social media and media coverage of the announcement.
When we coach clients about crisis preparedness and planning, we often counsel that it’s no longer about if a crisis will happen, it’s when. The importance of having a strong crisis plan in place – operationally and for handing communications – cannot be overlooked. When a crisis happens, there is much outside your control, but they way in which you communicate isn’t one of those things.
By taking a proactive approach, and leading with truth, transparency and timeliness, companies can minimize the potential for negative impacts on their reputation and maximize the potential for positive outcomes. It’s also important to recognize that reputation management is an ongoing process, and companies must continuously monitor and address any potential issues, before they become crises.