2015 Power Broker

Best Brokers of 2015

Creative risk solutions, industry knowledge and superior customer service are hallmarks of the 2015 Power Broker®
By: | February 19, 2015 • 12 min read

One certainty about our annual Power Broker® contest, now in its 10th year, is that it is never the same contest twice.

Brokers who seemed to have a lock on certain industry categories in past years have seen their grip loosened as new challengers rise to compete with them.

PowerBrokerLOGOJudging the contest, never an easy task, with hundreds of strong candidates annually, becomes more demanding every year as different risks emerge, and market capacity and appetite shifts.

But there are some things about Power Broker® that remain a constant. Every year, we talk to hundreds of risk managers across a broad spectrum of the economy to get their opinions on which brokers did the best work for them in the past year. It’s their testimonials that elevate a competent broker to a Power Broker®.

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When we talk to those risk managers we ask them to discuss the brokers who serve them in line with three key criteria.

Most importantly, we want to find brokers who were creative and tireless in finding recent risk solutions for their clients. Risk managers find reasons to sing brokers’ praises when they go to bat for them when the chips are down; when coverage is scant, underwriters rebuff them, or when acquisitions or business expansions make a puzzle of their risk exposures.

It took a team of 10 editors and more than 1,000 phone calls/emails to select the 2015 Power Broker® winners.

A second criteria is customer service. Believe it or not, we hear stories every year about brokers not returning risk managers’ calls when they are in a tight spot and need assistance. Leaders of brokerages swear that heads will roll if that’s found to be the case in their business, yet we hear it year after year.

The third criteria is industry knowledge, and by that we can assume insurance industry knowledge, but more importantly, deep knowledge of the business brokers are arranging cover for. When risk managers speak of the best brokers, they talk about how the brokers know their business so well that they become extensions of the organization. That entrepreneurial approach is a key trait of a Power Broker®.

This year, we identified 172 Power Brokers, an increase from previous years, because rather than exclude brokers who didn’t fit into a specific category, we expanded our At-Large category to capture brokers whose specialty isn’t well-defined by one sector or another.

Last year, the machinations of the Affordable Care Act caught our eye as a broad challenge for brokers and consultants. This year, we delved into an area that the industry doesn’t talk about enough; that area is claims conflict and resolution.

When the carrier balks and the customer yelps, Power Brokers step up to set things straight.

The State of Claims Conflict

For the population served by this year’s Power Brokers, 2014 was a tumultuous year across multiple lines of business. Many insureds have been faced with the one-two punch of a devastating loss followed by an unexpected claim denial. Some of those same entities were later left feeling raked over the coals when that claims activity — or other woes — led to harsher terms or even a cold shoulder from carriers with a diminished appetite for the risk. Enter the Power Brokers to bring everyone back to common ground.

In the aftermath of a loss 20 years ago, the question, “Are we covered for this?”, might have elicited a simple yes or no answer. Now there is far more gray area to sift through.

Resolving conflicts on behalf of clients has always been a part of the job for brokers. But brokers acknowledge that in recent years, the nature of these conflicts has changed.

In many areas, claims severity has experienced a slow upward climb, brokers said, leaving carriers more likely to balk at paying increasingly large sums. But there is also larger force in play that is making a state of conflict the new norm for a great many brokers and their clients.

There has been a rapid level of change occurring over the past decade or two, most of it connected to advances in technology.

As a result, risk exposures have deepened in complexity, and so have the meticulously crafted programs used to insure those risks. In the aftermath of a loss 20 years ago, the question, “Are we covered for this?”, might have elicited a simple yes or no answer. Now there is far more gray area to sift through.

“Is the same claim I had 20 years ago more contentious to settle today? I’d have to say no,” said Drew Haaser, U.S. technology practice leader at Marsh and a 2015 Power Broker® in the Utilities/Alternative Energy category.

“What I think we’re seeing is that it’s not the same claim from two decades ago.”

Haaser said that the constantly changing environment is moving faster than policy language can be adapted to keep up with it. The emergence of the sharing economy is one example.

“There’s no way the personal lines underwriter was anticipating that a private automobile was suddenly going to be doing ride-sharing. … At the same time, the commercial underwriter did not anticipate he was going to be insuring auto liability exposure for a fleet of vehicles that are unknown, driven by a cohort of drivers that are not professionally licensed.

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“What’s coming up are just new wrinkles, new gray areas that really need to be debated,” Haaser continued. But many are still thinking of claims in terms of the old paradigms, he said, and that friction is creating conflicts.

These new wrinkles mean a significant rise in coverage ambiguities. Brokers are seeing more instances where a claim could potentially fall under two or even three different policies depending upon how the parties interpret the circumstances.

“A lot of people just get into their rut and see their way of thinking. You have to take them beyond that.” — Amy Fedena, director of commercial accounts, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

“We’re definitely getting more gray,” agreed Phil Norton, national managing director, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. and a 2015 Power Broker® in the Technology category.

Phil Norton, national managing director, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

Phil Norton, national managing director, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

“Gray is where people are more likely to make their stances and be stubborn. … The ability of these claims to cross over into as many as three separate types of policies could potentially have different carriers pointing fingers at each other saying, ‘It’s your claim,’ and then the client’s upset because no one’s paying it … they’re all too busy pointing fingers at each other.”

Newer technologies are also making for more challenging placements and renewals, especially when insureds are breaking new ground.

“If you’re a technology underwriter, you’re used to thinking about a product from a company that, say, makes routers, and the router goes into a data center and provides IT services — that you can wrap your mind around, that’s technology,” said Haaser.

“But suddenly that same technology underwriter is being asked to cover a product that’s going down-well in hydraulic fracturing, and they freak out:  ‘That’s not technology, that’s fracking!’ But it is [technology].”

The current speed of business can amp up conflicts as well, he pointed out. If an insured makes a component that goes into someone else’s product and something goes wrong, there’s a real need to get the claim settled quickly to keep the other party satisfied. But underwriters want to do all the testing and get to the root causes, said Haaser.

“They want to go slower.”

The Emotional Factor

Resolving conflicts, said Amy Fedena, director of commercial accounts with Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., is a matter of “being able to figure out exactly what the pain points are — what is everyone trying to accomplish.” That’s where brokers’ deep knowledge of their customers’ industries comes into play, as well as a serious attention to detail, and strong listening and analytical skills.

The next level is understanding the people involved — how they think, what motivates them and what they need to make decisions. That takes an exceptionally high level of emotional intelligence — what is often called EQ. In order to be successful at resolving conflicts, you have to understand what makes people tick.

Drew Haaser, U.S. technology practice leader, Marsh

Drew Haaser, U.S. technology practice leader, Marsh

“It’s so important in these types of negotiations to let the other party present their ideas first and get it off their chest,” said Haaser.

“I find they don’t listen if they’re thinking about what their counterpoint is, or what they have to say. [You have to] allow the other party to get their opinion out there before you can start to build the win for each side.”

Brokers said there’s an underlying cultural difference that makes adversaries out of insureds, underwriters and claims handlers. Haaser quipped that he’s often reminded of the famous line from Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

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On the carrier side, every calculation and every bit of language that goes into policies and premiums is arrived at methodically and with careful precision. Insureds, on the other hand, are  thinking, “I’ve paid my premium to this underwriter for 10 years and never had a claim. Now I have an issue and I want it paid.”

Risk managers’ expectations are based on their understanding of the larger institutional relationship, said Haaser.

“So both sides are attacking it from this very different worldview,” he said.

Amy Fedena, director of commercial accounts, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

Amy Fedena, director of commercial accounts, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

“A lot of people just get into their rut and see their way of thinking. You have to take them beyond that,” said Fedena, a 2015 Power Broker® in the Construction category.

Citing a complicated conflict she dealt with in 2014, Fedena said the bottom line was everybody thought the situation was one way, but when they boiled down the details, they found that it wasn’t at all what it looked like on the surface.

That’s often what it takes to get people to look further than their own perspective.

Haaser agreed: “You need to be smart about how you pitch the claim, and that calls for digging into the details and presenting it in a way that will break the insurer out of their preconceived notions of whether it is or isn’t covered.

“I think underwriters have a tendency to jump to conclusions about which bucket something might fall into.”

“If I can get the client to see the carrier’s side,” Norton said, “[and] the carrier to see the client’s side — put them in each other’s shoes — then we might actually have two sides with a little bit of compassion … to the point where they’re looking toward a resolution rather than a fight.”

Cutting Through the Noise

There are also times when brokers need to shake things up in order to get a conflict resolved. Norton recounted a dispute he faced this past year involving large industry players and a multimillion-dollar claim with a lot of gray area getting in the way of getting the claim paid.

With such high stakes involved, not to mention an excessive number of lawyers, Norton decided to take things to a different level. He eschewed email, flying to New York and then to California to meet with the carrier and the insured personally.

“If you’ve got a claim that everybody, frankly, thinks is not going to get covered, and you get it paid? That’s like winning the Super Bowl.” — Drew Haaser, U.S. technology practice leader, Marsh

He convinced them to participate in a call without consulting attorneys present.

Prior to the call, he prepped his client by explaining the top three reasons the carrier was denying the claim. Then he gave them three reasons why those arguments weren’t entirely valid.

On the call, the client was completely prepped and Norton served as a facilitator. “What I saw was that a lot of the dispute was just the attorneys being overly zealous in taking their clients’ position.”

Norton repeated the process with the excess carrier as well. He was able to bring the parties to a resolution on both layers, with a result of $30 million eventually paid on the claim.

Without the buffer layer, both sides were more willing to listen and share information. And Norton’s personal visit changed the dynamic away from just being about lawyers firing emails back and forth.

“These are some of the elements that take you from zero to $30 million,” said Norton.

“Some of it’s luck and some of it’s skill and some of it is just completely handling the claim outside the box.”

Norton’s personal visit also elevated the level of trust in him and in his commitment to conflict resolution.

David Robinson

David Robinson, managing director, Aon

“Trust is probably the most critical component,” said David Robinson, managing director with Aon and a 2015 Power Broker® in the Energy/Downstream category.

“[You have to have a level of] trust with your client, that you will do the right thing on their behalf, and also develop trust with stakeholders — the underwriters, the claims adjusters.

“In order to achieve optimal outcomes for all sides,” he said, “that trust is imperative.”

Clients need that trust in their broker so they will accept when their position isn’t as strong as they assumed it was.

Or, for the client to look beyond the claim to see that maintaining a good relationship with the carrier requires reaching a resolution everyone can live with.

On the carrier side, building trust often comes down to respect and diplomacy, brokers agreed.

“There is a tendency to disrespect claims people at insurance companies,” said Haaser.

“I think many times these claims people are between a rock and a hard place, so one of the most important things is to be diplomatic and start by acknowledging how difficult their job is,” he said. Sometimes that is all that is needed to create collaboration so the claim can move forward.

It also doesn’t hurt to note, said Norton, that resolving the claim equitably might lead to future business.

It may be a matter of pointing out, he said, “Let’s think of this as a partnership rather than a dispute.”

“It’s a very effective strategy,” Fedena agreed, “to show them how it benefits them.

“[We might say], ‘Look, if you write the coverage for 18 months, and everyone’s happy, then maybe you can write the other nine lines.’ ”

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Because claims disputes are often high stakes situations for insureds, brokers said they feel clients place a significant amount of value on brokers’ ability to resolve claims.

“Getting a difficult claim paid,” Haaser said, “that’s like the playoffs … there’s more emotion around it … everything is a little heightened.

“And if you’ve got a claim that everybody, frankly, thinks is not going to get covered, and you get it paid? That’s like winning the Super Bowl.”

See the complete list of 2015 Power Broker® winners.

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected] Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Reputational Risk

Under Siege

Driven by social media, political wars spill over into the corporate arena, threatening reputations.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 12 min read

On Jan. 28, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called a strike at John F. Kennedy International Airport, one day after President Trump signed an executive order banning entry of foreign nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations, including a blanket ban on refugees. The strike was an act of solidarity with immigrants, and a public display of the Alliance’s opposition to the executive order.

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Uber, however, continued to service the airport, tweeting that it would halt surge pricing during the protests. Some saw it as an opportunistic ploy to get more riders to use Uber. A #deleteUber Twitter campaign was quickly born, with users tweeting screen shots of themselves removing the app from their smartphones.

More than 200,000 were estimated to have uninstalled the ride-sharing service over the course of the weekend.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick reacted, creating a $3 million legal defense fund to provide lawyers and immigration experts for any of its drivers that were barred from the U.S., and promising that drivers would be compensated for lost wages.

Over the same weekend, in response to the travel ban, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced that the company would hire 10,000 refugees worldwide over the next five years. Then it was Starbucks turn to get punished in the public arena. A #boycottStarbucks campaign was launched by people who felt the company should focus more on hiring American veterans.

Athletic shoemaker New Balance suffered blowback in November of 2016 when its vice president of communications, Matt LeBretton, told the “Wall Street Journal” in an interview that he believed “things are going to move in the right direction” under the new administration. Angry customers began posting pictures of themselves trashing or even burning their New Balance sneakers.

These social media-fueled public relations crises demonstrate how fickle public opinion can be. They also serve as warning signs of growing reputational risk for corporations.

Uber, for example, typically stops its surge pricing in the event of emergency so as not to exploit a crisis for its own benefit. To do so during the protests and taxi strike at JFK was perhaps meant to show its respect for the event.

Helen Chue, global risk manager, Facebook

Starbucks’ 10,000 refugee hires would be spread out across its locations around the globe, not just in the U.S., where the coffee conglomerate already promised to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2025.

New Balance’s LeBretton was speaking specifically about the Trans-Pacific Partnership during his interview, and how the deal could hurt sneaker production in the U.S. while favoring foreign producers — he wasn’t talking about Trump’s other proposed plans.

These companies, in reality, did nothing as abhorrent and scandalous as the Twitterverse may have led some to believe, but context isn’t always provided in 140 characters.

Public Pressure

Complaints and boycotts have been launched at companies via social media for perhaps as long as social media has existed. But the current contentious environment created by one of the most divisive leaders in American history now colors every public statement made by prominent business leaders with a political tint. Executives are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They’re exposed to reputational damage whether they oppose or endorse a Trump action, or even if they do nothing at all.

Take Elon Musk, for example, founder of Tesla and SpaceX and a well-known advocate for climate research and environmental protection. He came under fire for not publicly denouncing the travel ban and for keeping his seat on Trump’s business advisory council.

Musk has largely avoided the limelight on political issues, couching statements when he makes them at all — as most executives are wont to do. But he was prodded to defend himself on Twitter after some users suggested he was a hypocrite.

“Be proactive in your plans to mitigate the aftermath and how to communicate. Own up to error. Be transparent. Salvage your crown jewel.” —Helen Chue, global risk manager, Facebook

A strategy of avoidance may no longer work as consumers, employees and the public at large pressure companies to make a statement or take action in response to political events.

“A large segment of the population expects the people they do business with and the companies they buy from to support their point of view or respond to political or social issues in a certain way,” said Chrystina M. Howard, senior vice president, strategic risk consulting, Willis Towers Watson.

In a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t environment, reputation risk is expanding, and risk managers need to re-evaluate how they assess their exposure and build mitigation strategies.

A True Crisis?

The challenge begins with determining whether a negative public relations event is really a crisis. Is it a temporary blow to a brand, or does it have the potential to do long-term reputation damage? Misreading the signs could lead companies to overreact and further tarnish their image.

“These sudden public relations crises are a source of panic for companies, but sometimes it sounds much worse than it actually is. The financial ramifications may not be anywhere near what was feared,” Howard said.

“Uber is probably a good example of what not to do,” said Jeff Cartwright, director of communications at Morning Consult, a brand and political intelligence firm.

“They maybe went over the top in trying to reverse the way they handled the protests at JFK.”

Tracking brand value in real time can give risk managers insight into the true impact of a negative social media campaign or bad press.  Michael Ramlet, CEO and co-founder of Morning Consult, said most events don’t damage brands as much as trending hashtags make it appear.

Morning Consult’s proprietary brand tracking tool allows companies to measure their brand perception against influencing events like a spike of Twitter mentions and news stories. More often than not, overall brand loyalty remains on par with industry averages.

In Uber’s case, Twitter mentions spiked to roughly 8,800 on Jan. 29, up from about 1,000 the day before. By Jan. 31, though, the number was back down to around 1,250 and quickly settled back down to its average numbers. From the beginning of the #deleteUber campaign through the end of February, Uber’s favorability shrunk from 50 percent to roughly 40 percent, based on a series of polls taken by 18,908 respondents.

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It’s a significant dip, but likely not a permanent stain on the company’s reputation, especially after Kalanick’s public show of support for immigrants and rejection of the travel ban. Uber’s favorability rating remained higher than competitor Lyft’s throughout the ordeal.

“The #deleteUber campaign turned out to be a very local thing that didn’t have a widespread impact,” Ramlet said.

“Twitter at best is an imputed analysis of what people are saying. The vocal minority might be very active, but there might be a silent majority who still think fondly of a brand, or at least have no negative opinions of it.”

He said risk managers can also benefit by breaking down their brand perception into geographic and demographic subsets. It can, for example, show whether a brand is favored more heavily by Democrats or Republicans.

“If you have that data on day one, it can help you determine how to respond if, say, Trump tweets at you,” Ramlet said.

Of course, some spikes in news media and social media attention are indicative of much deeper problems and true reputational risk.

After the Wells Fargo dummy-account scandal broke, for example, unfavorability ratings as measured by Morning Consult jumped from roughly 20 percent to nearly 55 percent, while favorability dropped from 50 percent to 30 percent. Net favorability, which stood at 33 percent pre-scandal, fell to -4 percent post-scandal.

“They went from being the most popular bank to the least popular in less than four months, according to our data,” Ramlet said.

The contrast between Uber’s and Wells Fargo’s stories demonstrates the difference between a more surface-level public-relations event that temporarily hurts brand image, and a true reputation event.

“Failures that produce real and lasting damage to reputation include failures of ethics, innovation, safety, security, quality and sustainability,” said Nir Kossovksy, CEO of Steel City Re.

“Activists make a lot of noise that can be channeled through various media, but for the most part in the business world, stakeholders are interested in the goods and services a company offers, not in their political or social views. As long as you can meet stakeholder expectations, you avoid long-term reputational damage.”

Wells Fargo’s scandal involved a violation of ethics, sparked an SEC investigation and forced the resignation of its CEO, John Stumpf. It’s safe to say stakeholders were severely disappointed.

That’s not to say, however, that a tarnished brand name doesn’t also impact the bottom line.

“Even if a bad event is short-lived, the equity markets react quickly, so there may be sharp equity dips. There may be some economic impact even over the short term,” Kossovsky said, “because sharp dips are dog whistles for activists, litigators and corporate raiders.”

Social Media Machine

The root of reputation risk’s tightening grip lies in the politicizing of business, and consumers’ increased desire to buy from companies that share their values. Social media may not be driving that trend, but it acts as a vehicle for it.

“Social media has really changed the game in terms of brand equity, and has given people another way to choose who they give their money to,” Howard of Willis Towers Watson said.

Platforms like Twitter make it easier for consumers to directly reach out to big companies and allow news to travel at warp speed.

“Social media are communication channels that can take a story and make it widely available. In that regard, the media risk is no different than that posed by a newspaper or radio channel,” Kossovsky said.

“The difference today that changes the strategy for risk managers and boards is that social media has been weaponized: Stories shared on social media don’t necessarily have to contain truthful content, and there’s not always an obvious difference between what’s true and what’s not.”

Helen Chue, Facebook’s global risk manager, agreed.

“More influential than social media platforms is today’s culture of immediacy and headlines. Because we are inundated with information from so many sources, we scan the headlines, form our opinions and go from there,” she said.

“It’s dangerous to draw conclusions without taking a balanced approach, but who has the time and patience to sift through all the different viewpoints?”

An environment of political divisiveness, driven by speed and immediacy of social media, creates the risk that false or half-true stories are disseminated before companies have a chance to clarify. This is what happened to Uber and New Balance.

“It creates the opportunity to turn a non-problem into a problem,” Kossovksy said.

“That’s how social media changes the calculus of risk management.”

Risk Mitigation

The best way to battle both political pressure and social media’s speed is through an ironclad communication strategy; a process that risk managers can lead.

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“Risk managers play a crucial role in mitigating reputation risk,” Howard said.

“They bring with them the discipline of managing and monitoring a risk, having a plan and responding to crisis. Now they really have to partner with communications, marketing and PR.”

They also have to get the attention of their board of directors.

“If you let a gap form between what you say and what you do, that gap is the definition of reputation risk.” — Nir Kossovksy, CEO of Steel City Re

“This is both a company-wide risk and personal leadership risk, so the board needs to drive a company-wide policy that protects the board as well,” Kossovsky said.

The art of mitigating reputation risk, he said, comes down to managing expectations. Corporate communications should clearly convey what a company believes and what it does not believe; what it can do and what it can’t do. And those stated values need to align with the operational reality. It comes down to creating credibility and legitimacy.

“If you let a gap form between what you say and what you do, that gap is the definition of reputation risk,” he said. A strong communication strategy can prevent adverse events from turning into reputational threats.

Willis Towers Watson helps clients test their strategies through a table-top exercise in which they have to respond to a social media-driven reputation event.

“We’ll say, ‘Something happened with X product, and now everyone’s on Twitter lambasting you and calling for resignations, etc.’ What do you do on day one? What do you do a week out? How long do you continue to monitor it and keep it on your radar?” Howard said.

“If you have that plan in place, you can fine-tune it going forward as circumstances change.”

Sometimes, though, the communication strategy fails, and a company falls short of meeting stakeholders’ expectations. Now it’s time for crisis management.

“Volatility creates vulnerability. If you stumble on your corporate message, it creates an opportunity for activists, litigators and corporate raiders to exploit. So you need to have authoritative third parties who can attest to your credibility and affirm the truth of the situation to open-minded stakeholders,” Kossovsky said.

Owning up to any mistakes, reaffirming the truth and being as transparent as possible will be key in any response plan.

Insuring the Risk

Recouping dollars lost from reputation damage requires a blend of mathematics with a little magic. While some traditional products are available, reputation risk is, for the most part, an intangible and uninsurable risk.

“Many companies have leveraged their captive insurance companies in the absence of traditional reputation products in the marketplace,” said Derrick Easton, managing director, alternative risk transfer solutions practice, Willis Towers Watson.

“It goes back to measuring a loss that can include lost revenue, or increased costs. Some companies build indexes in the same way we might create an index for a weather product, using rainfall or wind speed. For reputation, we might use stock price or a more refined index,” he said.

“If we can measure a potential loss, we can build a financing structure.”

While there’s no clear-cut way to measure losses from reputation damage, “stock performance and reported sales changes are some of the best tools we have,” Howard said.

Some insurers, including Allianz and Tokiomarine Kiln, and Steel City Re, an MGA, do offer reputation policies. When these fit a company’s needs, they have the ancillary benefit of affirming quality of governance and sending a signal that the insured is prepared to defend itself.

“Because reputation assurance is only available to companies that have demonstrated sound governance processes, it helps to convince people that if a bad piece of news happens, it’s idiosyncratic; it doesn’t reflect what the company really stands for,” Kossovsky of Steel City Re said.

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“And it tells activists, broadly defined, not to look for low-hanging fruit here.”

In a volatile political environment, companies fare best when they simply tell the truth.

“The American public will accept an apology if delivered quickly and if it’s sincere,” said Stephen Greyser, Richard P. Chapman professor (marketing/communications) emeritus, of the Harvard Business School.

“Tell the truth. Don’t stonewall. A bad social media campaign can be an embarrassment, but if you stick to the facts and apologize when you need to, people forget about the bad quickly.”

“Reputation is the crown jewel,” Chue said. “Given the power of social media’s reach, one individual can have a tsunami-like influence. And it can happen when you least expect it, and it will probably be something you thought was innocuous or even positive that sets off a maelstrom.

“Plan for the worst-case scenario. Be proactive in your plans to mitigate the aftermath and how to communicate. Own up to error. Be transparent. Salvage your crown jewel.” &

Katie Siegel is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]