Upcoming Columbus Pride festivities provide a chance to maintain businesses' good public relations

By Jaron Terry

When most people hear the word "crisis," visions of hurricanes, fires or floods come to mind. But when CEOs hear it, they know that many business-related crises occur due to poor decision making, lack of discretion or plain old foot-in-mouth problems.

Business owners and CEOs with crisis communications plans in place can congratulate themselves on preparedness. However, June - traditionally celebrated and recently established by President Obama as LGBT Pride Month - marks an opportunity to dust off and take a fresh look at public relations activities and crisis plans that may be in need of an update.

Everyone's familiar with Barilla Pasta Chairman Guido Barrilla's splash into hot water by making anti-gay remarks, and how former Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy was grilled for taking a stance against equal rights. Such public relations faux pas threaten the viability - or at least the bottom line - of an organization through erosion of reputation, which has the potential to quickly turn loyal customers and supporters into defectors and detractors who take to social media to amplify their displeasure.

The greatest strength of an organization is its reputation. Trust and respect built through a philosophy that demonstrates a track record of honesty and fairness creates a "bank of goodwill" that can be drawn from when reputation is threatened. Ideally, human resources policies that reflect values of diversity, equality and inclusion are already in place, demonstrating more than lip service. Proactive public relations magnifies the effect of "doing the right thing" by building relationships with key publics in various ways.

For example, earlier this month, more than 850 people gathered for the 32nd Annual Human Rights Campaign Columbus Gala. As presenting sponsor, central Ohio-based retailer Abercrombie & Fitch led corporate sponsors and individuals in supporting equal rights for all.

Columbus-based businesses - including Cardinal Health and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, among the 379 organizations across the nation that urged the Supreme Court to make marriage equality the law of the land - should be lauded for doing the right thing, not only for their stakeholders, which include persons who identify as LGBT, their families and allies, but also for the good of the nation.

Also signing the friend-of-the-court brief is Stonewall Columbus, which, as Columbus Pride and Parade Festival organizer, provides a venue for sponsoring organizations to visibly demonstrate support for the LGBT community. On June 20, these sponsors will be among more than 200 units - including hospitals, banks, retailers, social service agencies and churches - marching in Columbus' Pride Parade.

Now is the time for leaders to assemble their communications teams to determine if operational, human resources, marketing and public relations policies and programs reflect values of diversity, equality and inclusion for all - not only for the sake of the organization - but also because it's the right thing to do.

Jaron M. Terry, MS, APR, president of Jaron Terry Communications, Ltd., teaches Crisis Communications at Franklin University. She can be reached at jaronterry@columbus.rr.com or www. jaronterrycommunications.com.