While there are many rules of crisis communication perhaps the one those in the public eye need to remember above all is: always be seen to be doing something (even if you're actually getting in the way).
The pace stories move along driven by social media and rolling news channels means not being seen to act is detrimental to a reputation or a career.
The awful floods in northern England ruined Christmas for many thousands and will see the clean up running into many millions. As the water continued to rise the media lapped up the images of despair and needed someone to blame. Politicians are pretty good at this stuff nowadays so a queue quickly formed of party leaders and others to conduct photo-calls with those affected or those helping.
With no luck to be had pinning the blame on a politician the media found the Chairman of the Environment Agency, Sir Philip Dilley was away on holiday. The fourth estate smelt an opportunity.
Instead of releasing a statement saying Sir Philip was going to be returning to the UK as soon as possible, that he was in regular contact with the team and would be available to the media at the earliest opportunity his media team lied as to his whereabouts.
It then got worse as, when he finally did arrive back in the UK and attended the flood hit areas, he and his PR advisers resolutely avoided the media. This despite promising to speak to the media. It got worse still when a spokesman said: “We wanted him to be able to go and meet the staff and meet communities and do so... in such a way he could do so freely without being under scrutiny.”
Oh dear. If you aren't seen to be doing something in a crisis then expect scrutiny. If people have had their houses flooded over Christmas expect scrutiny. If you earn £100,000 a year for a three day week from a public body expect scrutiny.
All in all a stellar example for how not to handle a crisis which is why Sir Philip Dilley is my Mis-Communicator of the Week.
Mis-Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite.
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