Increasingly, all stakeholders — from consumers and businesses to employees and community members — want to work with, for, and alongside brands that align with their values. In fact, 70% of consumers believe it’s important for brands to take a stand on social issues, according to SproutSocial. That number increases to 75% for Gen Z and 80% for Millennials. But far too often, brands either ignore issues that their stakeholders care about, or make empty statements backed by no action or investment.

According to the Peppercomm/Ragan Corporate Character Barometer, only 23% of communications executives report that they have created frameworks or playbooks to help their brand respond to recent societal controversies, such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade, mass shootings and other topics. Roughly two in 10 have started frameworks but not finished them. The majority (51%) reported they have no playbooks in place.

Stakeholders, tired of empty statements that lack real action, are looking for organizations to walk the talk. At the same time, communicators need a consistent, objective process for evaluating situations and guiding senior leadership. Frameworks need to evolve beyond traditional definitions of a “crisis” limited to product recalls, union disputes or an executive faux pas to one that examines both the organization’s responsibility, and that of its leadership, to speak out on broader social issues that stakeholders care about. Brands need a new playbook for determining if, when, and how to respond to societal issues.

Before speaking out, it’s time for a reality check:

  • Should we speak out on a political or social issue? If so, when?
  • Do we have the credibility to do so? Can we stand by our words?
  • How best can we prepare for and craft a response?
  • Are we prepared to respond to potential backlash and detractors?
  • How will we measure the impact of our statements?

RepCompass, Peppercomm’s issues & crisis preparedness and response program, helps companies and their leaders prepare for critical moments when they need to ask these questions, develop a robust framework, execute a proven methodology for responding authentically and measure the impact. The program includes five critical components:

Authenticity Audit

Most organizations have clearly defined purpose and values. In order to develop an effective issues management framework, it’s critical to determine how strongly aligned the organization is to those values. Are they truly delivering on them or are they more aspirational? Peppercomm conducts an audit to determine exactly where the organization sits on this spectrum, from both an internal and external perspective. We leverage both secondary and proprietary research, including internal reporting and surveys, media coverage, social media sentiment, external statements and more.

Risk Assessment

Armed with the findings of the audit, Peppercomm then develops a rubric that evaluates the organization’s stated purpose and values based upon the findings of the Authenticity Audit. Each value is measured based on its authenticity and provided a risk score that defines how well-positioned the organization is to speak out around this topic. This exercise provides a clear roadmap for communicators and leadership through a data-driven evaluation of the organization’s credibility on these issues.

For example, Company X has a desire to speak out on the topic of gun control following a shooting incident near one of its manufacturing facilities and “care and concern for our communities” is a stated value of the organization. Company X does not provide materials or financial support to gun manufacturers and has a clear no firearms policy in all of its facilities. However, the Risk Assessment revealed that Company X employs union labor in many of their facilities and this union has routinely donated to the NRA and its PAC supports candidates that publicly denounce gun control reform. Without the due diligence and issues mapping illustrated by the rubric, Company X could have opened itself up to cries of hypocrisy and demands by employees, customers and legislators to change its relationships with the union.

Issues Response Framework

Concurrent with the research and development phase of our process, Peppercomm works with the organization to update its existing response plan or create a new framework as needed. The issues response framework serves as the universal guide and action plan for the organization to effectively prepare for, navigate through and evaluate how the organization responds to an issue or crisis. This objective roadmap removes much of the emotion these situations are typically fraught with and guides the organization through a rational and repeatable decision-making process.

The framework includes:

  • A protocol for communicating around an issue and/or during a crisis event, including interdepartmental coordination
  • Roles and responsibilities for leadership and the communications team
  • A reporting matrix and structure, i.e., a decision tree
  • A comprehensive set of tools to enhance an efficient and consistent process to respond authentically to all internal and external audiences
  • How to optimize a digital “war room” (e.g., Microsoft Teams) to bring together the core issues response team, specialty teams as needed and necessary assets, with a regular cadence of updates

Peppercomm conducts interviews with key functional leaders (legal, HR, customer service, operations/IT, marketing/distribution, communications, business continuity, security, etc.) and then works directly with the marketing/communications team to identify and finalize potential issues/crisis scenarios, key audiences and processes to inform the plan.

The framework prepares both the crisis response and leadership teams to execute effective issues-response protocols according to the severity of the crisis (i.e., time of day, number of people impacted, reach of story, etc.), while ensuring the right people are located and contacted immediately to be “in the room” to make decisions. The framework provides templated collateral materials (press releases, fact sheets, Q&As, key messages, internal messaging, media holding statements, customer letters, social media posts, etc.) that demonstrate communications with these audiences and serve as a quick reference point for response, as well as a reporting hierarchy and matrices.


Too often, organizations find themselves facing a self-inflicted crisis. From a marketing idea gone awry to a social post that was inadvertently offensive, a lack of clear guidance and controls can turn the best intentions into a reputational crisis for a brand. Informed by the authenticity and risk assessments, Peppercomm creates a communications governance protocol that can and should be included in all employee handbooks, onboarding and ongoing training modules. This protocol sets the standards and guardrails for how, when, if and where certain topics can be discussed internally and externally. It sets clear guidance for topics that are off-limits, those that warrant approval or additional conversation and where the organization wants to lean-in and really take a stand. This blueprint is critical in keeping organizations from becoming their own worst enemy and provides needed clarity and direction for employees who may lack an enterprise-wide view of risk.

Crisis Simulation

The time to test an organization’s issues management framework is NOT when it comes knocking on your door. To ensure that the process and protocol we have developed will work in both anticipated and unanticipated situations, Peppercomm conducts a one-and-a-half day, in-depth crisis training program and workshop with key personnel. The goal is to help executives:

  • Understand today’s crisis environment and societal headline risk events, including those that do not directly impact business operations
  • Create more effective ways to get information, make decisions and react
  • Identify what gaps exists
  • Test the process and tools and finalize a trusted system
  • Feel prepared and in sync with fellow executives to deal with these situations
  • Agree on an issues management reporting structure

The crisis simulation and training program, like the issues management framework, is uniquely tailored to clients’ needs and business environment.

Peppercomm’s proprietary crisis methodology, developed and refined over 25 years of issues management work, is called CARES. This approach provides a diagnostic tool to simulate, test and prepare clients in all aspects of crisis training. Our CARES program consists of: Composure and Collection of Information; Assessment; Reaction; Evaluation and Success. CARES has been effectively implemented for Peppercomm clients of all sizes to create realistic and logical processes to follow during and after the onset of a crisis.

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