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ARTICLE: How to Avoid Stepping on the Bananas in Life: Protecting Brand Trust in Times of Crisis

Based on a talk by Alan Hilburg, internationally acclaimed reputation management expert. 

Speaking at a recent GIBS forum, Alan Hilburg, president and CEO of Hilburg Associates, discussed the relationship between brands, trust and crisis and common mistakes many CEOs make in times of crisis.

Howard Fox hosting Alan Hilburg at GIBS

Howard Fox hosting Alan Hilburg at GIBS

Alan’s career includes guiding six of the top 30 branding campaigns of the 20th century including Johnson and Johnson’s Tylenol brand recovery.  Known for his senior perspectives and judgment, The Los Angeles Times wrote that Hilburg is “a first call for those who find themselves in difficult high-risk crises.” The Wall Street Journal called him the “earliest practitioner of reputation management in litigation contexts” and he was identified by the London Times as a “leading corporate brand architect.”

According to Alan, crisis management is not just about the crisis, reputation management or PR – it is first and foremost about business continuity, protecting the brand and trust. These three vital elements should be the foundation on which all thinking, planning and business strategy is based.

But how can we define and establish trust? “Reputation is not trust”, says Alan. “Trust is about building long-term relationships, and a good starting point for this is for a company is to stand behind great values. Companies should ask themselves what their values are and how they communicate, live and most importantly, make decisions based on those values.”

Once a company can create solutions that enhance their competitiveness while simultaneously advancing social and economic conditions, they are able to form shared values. These shared values are an underlying driver to help create connections between a company and its community. “A community refers to those who are important to us, those whose behaviours we want to align with our interests and those whose trust we want to earn” says Alan. “When you engage with your community you speak to emotional drivers rather than rational ones, this is important as trust is an emotional thing.”

According to Alan, a brand fundamentally behaves like a guarantee and thus needs to provide real-time transparency, something Alan believes is a key element to avoiding a scenario of broken promises. A lack of transparency can easily contaminate a brand in times of crisis as it will bring trust to an all-time low.  Mistrust and distrust also have costly ramifications and Alan refers the high cost of low trust as ‘trust tax’, whereas when trust is high, a ‘trust dividend’ is established.

What is also significant to note is that while a crises plan protects you brand and reputation, crises are more about the victims. It’s what Alan refers to as an “outside- in” instead of “inside-out” viewpoint. We’ve seen cardinal mistakes being made time and time again, most recently in the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico when CEO Tony Howard famously proclaimed, “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.”

Alan believes that communication in times of crisis is not about press releases or statements; it is about getting people to listen. “That’s important in every relationship” says Alan “and if you get people to listen and you have the values and the experience that builds relationships of trust.” Alan has worked on over 250 crises around the world, and notes they all have three ingredients – one is mistrust, one is disengagement, and one is flawed decision making.

“Nothing good happens without trust. It is often one of the most overlooked concepts in crisis management yet it can change everything. Why?  Because it’s the only thing that means everything.” Alan Hilburg

Article written by Clea Dias of the Gordon Institute of Business Science.



Infographic: GIBS Dynamic Market Index

For Marketers taking a world-wide view.

Dynamic Market Index Infographic



Howard Fox is Executive Director Marketing at the Gordon Institute of Business Science and hosted the press launch of the GIBS Dynamic Market Index.

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