Why a crisis becomes a scandal? And why does football get it wrong time and time again?
If you have seen my avatar you will know that I don’t just write a PR blog. I am a football fan. There I said it. I love watching, reading and talking about the beautiful game but most importantly I love attending matches. I’m not quite in the league of my colleague Andy who thrives on the buzz of watching obscure non-league football every weekend but I am an unashamed match going Southern Red. Having been plonked in the back of my Dad’s car and driven to games since before I can remember, I have taken this obsession to the next level in recent years and started travelling around Europe watching United.
It was while telling my Dad last night about the new song I learnt in the pouring rain of Braga, taunting an English rival about a recent scandal, that I thought about what a PR professional could learn from such events. The same rules always apply.
Pick a scandal. Any scandal – it doesn’t just have to be a football related one and you will see one constant. When there has been a crisis and efforts have been made to conceal the offence there has been a greater chance of outrage and opportunity for lasting damage. Hillsborough, BBC, Jimmy Savile, Racism in football or phone hacking. The incident angered the public but it was the perceived cover up that caused outrage and subsequently added fuel to the flames that led it to become a scandal.
When an incident such as this occurs, it is important to head it off straight away. More often than not, it is vital for the head of an organisation to come out and admit fault, explain why it happened, apologise and explain what they are doing to rectify the situation. In some cases by doing this early enough they can then leave the hard work of repairing the damage to others with their credibility still intact.
I think of the BP crisis for example. If the CEO had got on a plane to the US as soon as the pipe burst, admitted the problem, showed he was mortified and discussed what BP was going to do about the problem things might have been different. Instead while wildlife and livelihoods were being decimated he was pictured on his yacht many miles away. Compare this with when Jimmy Carr was named as a tax dodger. He instantly came out, admitted that he had received poor advice, apologised and said that he had put plans in place to stop the perceived wrong-doing. In one statement he killed a story by simply being open. It probably felt like a gamble at the time but it was inspired.
What you privately think is your own concern. What you publically say and do is everybody’s. When approaching a crisis this is a tact that every PR professional needs a client to understand. It doesn’t matter what you think privately but what you do publically to stop a crisis becoming a scandal. If it becomes a scandal you are dead and buried. Remember – don’t try and justify or hide a crisis, simply be as open as possible.
If only a couple of United’s rivals had taken this approach. Maybe one wouldn’t be jobless and the other still England captain.