Year-End Review: Critical Takeaways from Key Case Studies

December 1, 2017

As we look back on 2017, we at Kith find ourselves not only planning for the new year ahead, but reflecting on the past 12 months. We had a busy year helping clients in their journey toward reputation excellence by implementing the Kith Model for Reputation Excellence.

Kith’s Model for Reputation Excellence was created after CEOs and CMOs expressed desire for a framework that would help their organization understand and manage reputation. CEOs and CMOs were familiar with the Four P’s of Marketing— Price, Product, Placement and Promotion– as a way of managing the marketing mix, so we created the Four A’s of Reputation Management: Awareness, Assessment, Authority and Action.

Kith's model for Reputation Excellence


The Four A’s empower organizations with the framework they need to turn critical moments into reputation-building opportunities for durable, long-term growth. I talk about the model more in my book Critical Moments.

In 2017, we helped many organizations, but as we reflect on the past year I’m looking at three particular instances so you can see the real-world applications of our model.


CLIENT: A Major Hospital System  

MODEL ELEMENT: Awareness – Crisis Readiness

A major hospital system in New York came to Kith after suspecting there were gaps in their crisis response capabilities. The client knew it performed well in marketing communications– both digital and traditional– but suspected their reactive communications, especially in a time of crisis, were less strong.

The way this client came to Kith is not uncommon. While we work with plenty of clients who come to us while in the middle of a crisis, many come to us seeking to strengthen their response tactics before a crisis strikes (or strikes again). Awareness, at the base of the model, asks you to think about your need and desire for change. This client did just that– it surveyed the landscape and understood that there was room for improvement in crisis response.

Together with the client, we determined a crisis simulation was the best training method for the hospital system’s team. Kith designed a scenario that involved a negative social media post about patient care going viral. We used our integrative platform Crisis3 for execution of the exercise. Crisis3 is an intense, time-driven session that demands rapid cooperation and organization from participants. This fast-paced, high-pressure exercise included media injects like broadcast clips and live role-players calling in as reporters and other third parties. Needless to say, the exercise felt very real for participants and got hearts racing.   

We do crisis simulations not to just set your team’s hair on fire or freak them out. We do crisis simulations because they test your systems and reveal gaps in your crisis response. In short, they create Awareness. This exercise not only stressed out the hospital system’s team, it helped the group realize there were improvements that could be made. Leadership expressed relief that these needed improvements were revealed in an exercise rather than a real-world scenario. In our post-exercise report, we were able to analyze the client’s gaps and create a plan to better equip them for future crises.

We love doing crisis simulations– they’re a quick (and intense) way to test an organization’s plans and systems and lead to great crisis planning and response. I expect we’ll do many more simulations in the year to come.


CLIENT: College Board

MODEL ELEMENT: Authority – Reputation Management Council

We’ve enjoyed a long relationship with College Board. For those unfamiliar with College Board, it’s a not-for-profit with a mission providing opportunity for college bound students. They’re responsible for assessments like the SAT and programs like Advanced Placement. Higher education institutions rely on the credibility and reputation of College Board, so College Board is fully invested in defending and building its reputation.

In 2017 Kith and College Board delved deeper into managing their reputation more proactively. College Board expressed a desire to have better coordination between operations and marketing/communications. We see this a lot at companies– the creators/builders (operations) and the sellers (marketing/communications) don’t always work closely together or share information as proactively as they should. There are a number of reasons for this including cultural and geographical, but we’ve found that not having these two entities leaves your company rife for reputation disruption.

For  College Board, we decided the best way for operations and communications to work together and establish a firmer grasp on risks facing their reputation was establishing a Reputation Management Council. The Reputation Management Council is part of the Authority section of the Model for Reputation Excellence. Authority means giving yourself permission and the tools necessary to bring about the change you’ve chosen to pursue. A Reputation Management Council is a body of leaders from across the organization that comes together to evaluate the risks and set an agenda for implementing programs. They have the authority to implement change related to risks facing the organization.

For College Board, this was an opportunity for operations and marketing/communications to work together more closely to mitigate and identify risk. Rather than wait for a crisis to strike, a Reputation Management Council would allow for College Board to discuss risks facing their organization on a regular basis and even allow them to mitigate a potential crisis before it went public.

For example, say the finance team made a decision to change the price of one of College Board’s products. Because of how the organization is structured, it’s possible groups like communications wouldn’t know of the decision until it was about to be implemented. Instead, with a Reputation Management Council in place, the other disciplines would know about this pending decision ahead of time and have time to plan. Communications could develop reactive messaging or a counter-narrative explaining the improvements made to the product. Government affairs would have time to discuss the upcoming change in a proactive way with their contacts. IT could ensure that the website was ready to update and reflect this new change. Reputation Management Councils provide a venue for productive conversations like this to take place and provide an early warning system for any potential issues that may impact your reputation.

Results from a Reputation Management Council are difficult to measure, as its hard to measure how many issues you actually prevented from happening as a result of discussing them during a Council meeting. However, increased communication and collaboration between business units make College Board more prepared than ever to take on risks that may impact their reputation.


CLIENT: Cargill

MODEL ELEMENT: Awareness – Situational Intelligence

Cargill is a major producer of protein supplied to food makers, food service companies and food retailers. We’ve worked with them both in and out of crisis and helped them establish their strong reputation they enjoy in the market today. Major food companies like Cargill are a huge target for reputation disruption with risks include NGO activism and food-borne illnesses. It’s imperative for companies like Cargill to be aware of their unique and challenging risk landscape.

In 2017, we built out Cargill’s existing Awareness activities and added Risk Mapping. Risk Mapping is a form of situational intelligence and is a way for Kith and its clients to take an in-depth look at all the risks facing a client, analyze them, then hone in on the risks that are the most likely to happen and have the most impact.

Cargill already had one form of situational intelligence in place– they receive weekly in-depth reports created by us that analyze the news coverage and make recommendations organized in three categories: Act, Monitor, and Backburner. However, not all your risks are being discussed in the news on a regular basis (at least not until they become a crisis). You still need awareness of risks that aren’t being discussed in the news– this is where Risk Mapping comes in.

For Cargill, we conducted one-one-one interviews with 14 subject matter experts to uncover what the risks faced Cargill and the experts’ opinions on the likelihood and impact of risk. Following the interviews, we uncovered more than 100 risks in need of further analysis to determine likelihood and impact. Using the insights gained from interviews and Kith’s own expertise on crisis management, we were able to take the risks identified and provide an output of the most likely and impact risks.


The reveal of the most likely and impactful risks is just the beginning. From there, we’re able to further categorize these risks into our framework and create action plans that will help Cargill address these risks. This is the start of a journey toward fully grasping, planning for and eventually mitigating the risks facing the company.

As we begin a new year, we’re looking forward to many more exciting opportunities to help companies on their journey toward reputation excellence. If we’ve learned anything this past year, its that there is a deep desire from CEOs and CMOs to make reputation management manageable, and we believe our model has done just that. We’ve enjoyed the opportunity to help clients work through the model on their own individual journeys, and look forward to continue doing so in the upcoming year.


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Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.