In the world of business, your brand is constantly at risk. Everything from diabolical computer hackers and human errors to natural disasters, pandemics, and acts of war threaten the viability and continuity of your operation. Do you know what to do? When a crisis happens, it is human nature to want to solve it as quickly as possible and resume operations immediately. While that is a good idea in theory, you would be wise to consider all the implications of acting too quickly. What you say, when you say it and how you say it could each make the crucial difference for the future of your credit union and its members. Over the next year, we will address various types of crises and situations that may impact your credit union. Some of them may be relatively easy to solve, others may need specialized counsel for managing the situation, working with the media, or repairing damage done to your brand as a result. All should give you pause to consider what your business would do if faced with a crisis. First, you should understand what a crisis is, and what it is not. Someone complaining online about the service they received at your credit union is uncomfortable, perhaps maddening or embarrassing, but is it a crisis? Yes! And no. It may be just one mention, but how you address it could turn that statement into either a firestorm or a learning opportunity. The choice is yours.
The same goes for how you manage your technology, where your business stands on social justice issues, employment issues, and how you operate on a daily basis. Even the most prepared organization can have a data breach or lawsuit that puts it in the crosshairs of media and public controversy. Our first topic of this series is Mitigation vs. Crisis Management vs. Reputation Management. At first glance, you may think these words nearly synonymous. Similar yes, but when you are facing a crisis within your credit union the difference is substantial, and you will see that often one can lead to the others—or if managed properly leave your credit union stronger and neutralize future threats. Let’s work through an example. You have a long-time employee who refuses to wear a mask while at work (not for any type of physical reason, just does not want to wear one). There is a clear employee policy indicating that all team and credit union members must follow the state/local-mandated mask ordinance. You have reminded this employee of the policy multiple times and have seen no change in behavior. After a recent discussion about the mask policy, the employee makes derogatory, threatening posts online about you and the credit union. The employee recruits and encourages other team members to refuse masks as well, and contacts local media about what they consider to be an overly restrictive policy. A story ran in the local news about the internal strife. Members start asking if the CU is safe, deposits begin to decline, employees are confused, social media posts are running wild, and there is a general lack of morale at your credit union. How do you handle this situation? First, we suggest working with your Human Resources and legal teams before making any decisions, and this is just a fictional example that could happen. Mitigation for this scenario would mean making decisions and policies and taking actions that reduce the damage or likelihood of a negative event on your credit union. Mitigation is about doing today everything that you might need to protect your credit union in the future from a variety of threats. After discussion with HR/legal, you may opt to fire or discipline the employee for violating company policy(ies). You could decide to relax the mask policy for the credit union (providing it does not violate city or state requirements) or issue a public statement supporting your mask policy.
In terms of mitigation, how prepared would you be for this? Would your social media policies do what you would want them to do? Your dress policy? Behavior and performance standards? Your media policy? The crisis management component begins when a triggering event occurs, often when the public is aware of the situation. This situation is a crisis impacting your employees, members, and brand. No matter what the legal/HR solution is for the scenario in question, you have a crisis to handle both internally and externally. Crisis management is about shortening the life cycle of the crisis. It must manage both the immediate and the long-term implication of the situation.
Since this issue involved social and traditional media, you will want to address it likewise. Use your owned (website) and social media channels to clearly state your position on the issue, why it is important, and what it means for your members and employees. Then respond to earned media (news outlets) with language and statements consistent with what is on your web and social. While reaching the media is important, it is secondary to your most important audience: your employees. (And media will frequently reach out to your employees, so you want them to prepare with accurate information. Any inconsistency attracts greater scrutiny and suspicion about your organization.) The team members who carry your brand every day need to be informed of what is happening and how it impacts them. Now is the time to listen to your team, let them ask their questions, and share with them what steps are being made to solve the crisis. An engaged and supported team can do more to help recover from a crisis than any amount of advertising or media placement. Reputation management begins as soon as the initial crisis is solved (decision made, employees notified), but the planning for it should happen during crisis management. Assess the damage and look to the future. This work is about repairing the damage done by this crisis and to recover what was lost because of the crisis. This phase will involve knowing where you stood in terms of brand awareness and sentiment, and how that has changed.
Your reputation is not built upon just one thing, and a crisis in any one area of your operation should never define your brand. Once the crisis-inducing situation is mitigated, the focus should shift to what your credit union is doing right, right down to the most basic operations that directly impact the lives of your employees, members, and your community. Sharing those positives will help blunt the sting of the crisis and serve as building blocks for rebuilding your reputation. Want to learn more about how to handle a crisis? As one of the nation’s top crisis management firms, we have a proven record of taking on crises of all sizes—including several for our credit union clients. We work in tandem with legal teams to determine the very best approach for the desired outcome. In this series of articles in Credit Union Business, we will share some of what we have experienced and how you might navigate should a crisis impact your business. To learn more visit us at  And if you’d like more information about how a marketing agency could make your credit union more successful, contact me at
John Deveney, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, IABC Fellow recognized internationally for crisis and issue management across a variety of industries. In 2006, John was honored as “Agency Executive of the Year” by PRNews after he served as the first responder managing media during hurricanes Katrina and Rita — from evacuation of the city to a military blockade and the aftermath — for both the tourism industry for New Orleans and the Louisiana Office of Tourism. He led the only on-site communication operation and media center that managed more than $400 million in media scrutiny in war-like conditions. In 2010, John and his team created the strategy and led the team that managed the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism’s response to the BP oil spill. That effort reshaped public perception and preserved Louisiana’s $9.4 billion tourism industry. DEVENEY has been named PR News’ Firm of the Year and PRWeek’s Top 5 Boutique PR Firms in the country. John is in the PRNews’ Hall of Fame, and is the only professional to ever merit the lifetime achievement recognition of being inducted into both the PRSA College of Fellows and IABC Fellows.

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