3 big reputational risks facing PR companies around the world—and how to diffuse them

by | Mar 1, 2021 | Public Relations

There is no shortage of concerns that PR companies have regarding the myriad of reputational risks that face them online. This is because of how easy it has become for online troublemakers and trolls to put brand loyalty, corporate reputation, and purchase intent at serious risk. What’s worse, it can be incredibly difficult to identify and ignore these predators as their tactics to spread harmful content become more advanced.

Harmful content that is roiling around online can compound with another relatively recent but highly dangerous problem that now faces PR companies: “fake news” and disinformation that their online trolls spread. Fake news is particularly troubling for PR companies that need to assume the onus of preventing a flow of fake news. To put it simply, there are big, intangible reputational risks that face PR companies that may not be used to dealing with them.

Let’s take a look at the business ethics that create an approach that PR companies can use to manage risks and opportunities that surround ethical conduct of business:

1. Poor customer follow-ups

Customer follow-ups are, of course, essential to generating potential revenue. But for PR companies, poor or non-existent follow-ups can also give customers the unfortunate impression that other competitors are more interested in securing a customer response. So, what methods can PR companies pursue to ensure their outreach recipients engage with them quickly while sending as few follow-up messages as possible?

First, consider the reality that many of your outreach recipients are, for whatever reason, likely not opening or engaging with your first message. In fact, only 19 percent of emails are actually opened with the first sending, which illustrates the importance of having multiple follow-up messages ready to go. Without those follow-up messages, PR companies run the very real risk of giving their outreach recipients the impression that they don’t truly value their engagement.

PR companies can, in addition to sending more follow-up emails, reliably secure increased engagement with their audience by adopting a cross-channel marketing strategy. Cross-channel marketing strategies are particularly important for PR companies that use social media platforms to engage with their customers, which can undermine a company’s brand image if it communicates with its audience in a way that doesn’t resonate with them.

PR companies should use cross-channel marketing strategies to outline new strategies for online communication and customer interaction, which can help maintain brand image and regular engagement through follow-up emails and newsletters.

2. Lack of customer data protection

PR companies face the large challenge of earning the trust and business of the modern day’s skeptical consumers. It’s safe to say that customers have just about had it with fearing that their personal data is at risk of being compromised every time they complete an online transaction.

It stands to reason, then, that reliable customer data protection measures should be at the forefront of the minds of PR company leaders. First, companies should recognize that one of the most reliable sources that a data breach has occurred comes from the customers themselves. In other words, if a customer has any reason to believe that their data has been threatened, they should have a means to alert your company’s IT or security teams immediately.

This is why focusing on strong customer support is so critical. Invest in an accessible and reliable ticketing system that can alert you quickly to reported incidents by integrating directly to your mailbox and notifying you accordingly. You can also manage ticket permissions to categorize the incidents and assign different customer support team members accordingly to respond to (and reassure) customers, and then secure identified vulnerabilities.

In regards to those vulnerabilities, PR companies have the option of scanning their customer-facing applications for security vulnerabilities, even while they’re running live in a web browser. Those steps should, namely, focus on the application layer, which is where users actually interact with a customer-facing application. Mitigating threats to the application layer requires a focus on the end-user and should focus on application layer security requiring that user input be carefully controlled.

In other words, PR companies can mitigate risk to customer data by not only locking down session security and user access but by hardening their application layer against common forms of cyberattacks such as SQL injections, of which 65% of online businesses have been a victim.

3. No employee use of VPNs

PR companies need to be responsible for safeguarding customer data outside of the sphere of application-layer security, too. Cybercrime has continued to increase in the midst of the COVID pandemic, with large-scale data breaches soaring to 273% in the first fiscal quarter. These new threats and a constantly changing landscape of media have made it imperative for PR businesses to make it mandatory that their employees use virtual private networks (VPNs) when connected to their network.

To combat the significant rise in COVID-related cybercrime, PR companies need to instill in their customers the confidence that they’re doing everything in their power to ensure customer data is secure, even outside of a company’s customer-facing applications. According to cybersecurity expert Ludovic Rembert of Privacy Canada, using a VPN is no longer an option in today’s world, saying, “Businesses and individuals are using VPNs at an increasingly rapid rate. Once upon a time, they were solely by businesses. Nowadays, the average person has much more personal information floating online…a VPN is your only safeguard against savvy cyber-criminals”.

Thankfully, VPNs are now available at prices lower than ever, making them affordable investments for even small PR organizations that want to emphasize customer data protection in all facets of their operations.

Affordable VPNs translate to faster time to adoption for PR companies who need to protect their network’s access points to avoid breaches due to insecure networks. Mandating employee use of VPNs, and especially for employees who work remotely, is an excellent complement to application layer security.


The volume of troublesome online content and cybercrimes that can damage a brand’s image are unfortunate mainstays in 2021. Luckily, PR companies have affordable solutions available to them to instill confidence in their users that their data and customer experience are always secure.

A smart combination of multi-channel marketing strategies, customer-facing application security, and employee use of VPNs can help PR companies around the world avoid big reputational risks and reliably diffuse them if they threaten to rear their heads.

Dan Fries
Dan Fries is Founding Partner at Lakeview Capital in Hong Kong.


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