Reputation and PR crisis management: the good, the bad and the (pig) ugly

Three days into this week, and we have seen three totally different examples of crisis management, ie organisations or individuals responding to adverse publicity.

It’s fascinating watching how organisations respond when they are under fire, and in rapid succession we have seen one complete stonewalling, one outright confession, and one company that just decided to go whole-hog (no, not that one) and make matters considerably worse.

It’s safe to say the PR people for each have had their work cut out this week. Each response has its merits and drawbacks, and I’ll look at those below. Who got it right? I have certainly a favourite; let us know which you prefer via @on_the_podium

Just a heads-up, this blog post contains outright lies and deviancy, lewd sexual exploits, and misogyny. Enjoy!


PR crisis management 1 – the stonewalling.

A pig. Identity concealed for legal reasons.

A pig: identity protected for legal reasons.

It can’t have escaped your notice that some rumours were spread on Sunday night/Monday morning about UK PM David Cameron. The story goes that, in his student days, the Rt Hon Mr Cameron MP once inserted a private part of his body into the disembodied head of a pig.

I personally have no issue with him doing this, if it did indeed happen. (Bear in mind the main source was the Daily Mail, which is, by any measure, one of the worst things about British society today.) Thing is, anybody who was a member of any university sports or social club will have done things they regretted in the name of ‘banter’ (yuck).

It is, however, absolutely hilarious, especially against the backdrop of the criticism Jeremy Corbyn attracted last week for not wearing a tie.

So how did Number 10 respond? They didn’t. Almost certainly inundated with enquiries, they opted not to ‘dignify the rumours with a response.’

Merits: It’s easier for the press team, certainly. Their phones will have been ringing off the hook (the metaphorical hook).

Drawbacks: The rumours will pervade. In the absence of a denial or announcement of libel action (for the claims are certainly defamatory), people will assume the rumours are true.


PR crisis management 2 – the outright confession.

Our second example came on Tuesday, when it emerged that Volkswagen has been fiddling emissions test results in the US for several years. It could cost the company billions of dollars in fines and reputational damage. The company was devious, mis-leading regulators and customers. The extent of the cost is yet to be fully understood.

Having been caught red-handed, sometimes honesty is the best policy. It doesn’t really make up for years of deceit, but it’s a good start and shows that outright honesty is refreshing. Even if that honesty ironically involves the words ‘our company was dishonest’.

Here’s the apology:

Merits: It’s clear and simple. One man, on a stage, offering an outright confession and apology. If you’re at the centre of a sh*tstorm, appearing to be as calm as possible is a pretty good approach. If VW is to regain its reputation, it needs to start with a proper confession, and has done so reasonably well.

Drawbacks: The delivery is a bit weird. He is clearly smiling as he comes onto the stage, and he does the ‘honest broker, hands out thing’ a little bit too frequently. Also, the apology isn’t really going to do much when it comes to fending off the mountain of law suits the firm is now going to face. Honesty after the event, when you’ve been busted, is a bit of a hollow gesture.


PR crisis management 3 – the ‘making things a million times worse’ approach.

A pig: identity protected for legal reasons.

A pig: identity protected for legal reasons.

Ouch. That was the main repeatable word when I saw the mess that newly-branded Radio X had got itself into this week. The station formerly known as XFM decided to kick off its rebrand by billing itself as a station aimed specifically at men aged 25-44. Nothing specifically wrong with that – there are plenty of media available for women, too. However, music is quite non-gender-specific, and it does make one wonder what sort of horrific chat will be taking place between songs in the name of ‘banter’ (yuck, again, sorry). It gets worse when you find out they’ve recruited the generally obnoxious Chris Moyles. I’ll stick to 6Music, I think.

So there was the usual flurry of complaining on social media as people pointed out their vague displeasure at a product identifying a key audience demographic and then targeting it. Like I said, nothing massively wrong with what they did.

Until they decided to respond, with this voice-over on an advert.

If you don’t want to click the link, this is what it said:

“Recently it was said that Radio X was a station with a male focus, now a lotta people interpreted this as a women can’t listen to this station but that’s not the truth. Radio X is a station for men, but it is also a station for women too. We love women at Radio X, your make-up and your high heels; you’re just so damn cute.”

Jeez. Who thought that was a good idea? Cleverly, they manage to be offensive to both men and women there. Women for being patronising; men for implying that men actually think like that. Idiots.

Merits: It has got people talking about Radio X…

Drawbacks: Those people are mainly saying “there’s no chance I’d listen to Radio X.” Amazing work.


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