When a crisis hits your organisation later today, how prepared are you to handle it? What do consumers expect you to do?  And will you still be standing tomorrow, reputation intact?

In the court of public opinion, reputation is the only currency worth having in a crisis.  Failure to predict, prepare and adequately respond to a crisis will shred your reputation and the value of your organisation in an instant. Trust, built up over decades, can evaporate in minutes.

PRPSG PLUS’ new report ‘On the brink…how crisis ready are you?’ brings new research to light regarding consumer attitudes to companies in crisis.  Our research shows that the speed and strength of your investigation along with your reaction are the most important factors in responding to the crisis and protecting your reputation, not to mention your revenues.

‘On the brink’ poses the question, how crisis ready are you? Let’s start with some of the key findings. Our research shows that more than half of CEOs have experienced a crisis in the past 24 months, but only 40 percent of them had a crisis plan to activate. When it comes to crisis communications, the importance of preparation and planning cannot be over emphasised.

That’s especially true when you consider that 75% of consumers who responded to the survey said reputation was a key factor in their buying decision. In fact 52% of consumers said they will buy from a company that has a strong reputation. This emphasises the point that in today’s marketplace, reputation is everything and protecting it in a crisis is absolutely essential.

However, understanding what your customers prioritise is also key, as it will inform not only your strategy but also your response. The PSG PLUS research shows that for consumers the worst thing a company can do is lie to them or mislead them. 79% of the respondents put that at the top of their concerns, followed by fraud or white-collar crime inside the company.

Compare that though to what the CEOs of companies see as their biggest concern when it comes to issues that concern them the most. 90 percent said that the loss of customer data due to a breach or a hack would pose the biggest risk in a crisis. And while that was of significant importance to consumers, it actually ranked 3rd in the list of concerns for consumers.

How then should you respond in a crisis? What is it that consumers want to hear and see you do when things go wrong and your reputation is at stake?

While both consumers and companies agree that launching an investigation into the source of the crisis should come top of the list, our research shows some significant divergences in expectations. Whereas 31% of customers say the company should compensate the people affected, just 5 percent of CEOs agree.

And whereas 66% of corporations say the CEO is the person most responsible for solving a crisis, just 30% of customers agree. In fact most customers see the senior management team as sharing collective responsibility and say that as a group it should be that team which is on the hook for making the crisis go away.

So, we know how vital it is to protect our brand, the pressure points that are most likely to anger consumers and the importance of having a crisis communications plan in place. The next question is how best to relay our response to the wider public and who we need to build relationships with.

Again, `On the Brink….How Crisis Ready Are You?’ shows some interesting results. Social Media, the tool that can amplify a mistake and turn it into a crisis, is the most trusted source of information for just 9 percent of consumers during a crisis.

Indeed the most trusted source of information for customers while a company navigates a crisis is the appropriate regulatory body for the sector. This emphasises the need to build effective and healthy relationships with key stakeholders as part of the preparation plans.

In conclusion a crisis may happen whether you prepare for it or not, but planning will help mitigate a crisis, protect the brand and ultimately protect the bottom line.

Alan Tyrrell - On the brinkAlan Tyrrell is Agency Director for PSG PLUS, the corporate PR agency of PSG Communications.