Your Crisis Communications Update: It's a struggle for P&O, Chelsea and Disney

Polpeo's Kate Hartley discusses the recent crisis communication challenges of P&O, Chelsea and Disney.

P&O Ferries – no longer the most popular ferry company in the UK

There’s an old saying in crisis communications that you can’t communicate your way out of a crisis you behaved your way into. Yesterday, P&O Ferries behaved its way into one of the worst corporate reputation crises I’ve seen in recent years.

The plan seemed to be: sack 800 staff with immediate effect by three-minute video message; manhandle those who refuse to leave their posts (using handcuffs if necessary); leave customers stranded in various ports because there’s no one to crew ships (or divert them to competitors); and replace all staff with cheaper labour in a few weeks. What could possibly go wrong?

Politicians, unions, customers, media, and of course employees are all, rightly, outraged. P&O Cruises is feeling the fall-out too, repeatedly having to say that it is not the same company as P&O Ferries. The only people staying silent on this are P&O Ferries’ owners, Dubai-based DP Ports.

If there’s an enterprising shipping billionaire out there with an eye on the UK-Europe lines, I sense an opportunity.

P&G Ferries strapline ‘the UK’s most popular ferry company’ is out of touch

Chelsea FC faces its day of reckoning

Today is D-Day for Chelsea FC, as bidders line up to provide proof they have funds to buy the club from current owner, Roman Abramovich, who is under sanctions by the UK government. The club is up for sale, a process complicated by the fact that the government would need to approve a deal as, under sanctions, Abramovich can’t profit from the sale. Sponsors - including Three and Hyundai - are leaving Chelsea in droves, keen to disassociate themselves from Abramovich, and leaving the club squeezed financially.

Chelsea’s comms response to the Abramovich crisis has been ill-thought-through, at best. The club asked for Saturday’s FA Cup quarter final at Middlesbrough to be played behind closed doors, citing reasons of ‘sporting integrity’ (sanctions mean Chelsea can’t sell new tickets to matches). The response to that from both Middlesbrough and government sources was damning.

The big question for me is how Chelsea emerges from this crisis, and what type of owner it chooses next. Another billionaire with deep pockets but dodgy ties to a repressive regime? Or something more sustainable, but that needs the club to be financially solvent? Whichever it chooses, Chelsea is facing a very different kind of future.

Disney’s response to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ doesn’t match its stated values

Disney faces more staff strikes next week after its CEO Bob Chapek refused to explicitly condemn Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which seeks to ban the discussion of sexuality and gender identity in schools (much like the old Section 28 in the UK).

An initial statement from Chapek said that the firm stood by its LGBTQ+ employees, but wouldn’t comment specifically on the bill. Later, Chapek said he had ‘missed the mark’ in his response. He said Disney would halt donations to the state of Florida temporarily and support advocacy groups fighting the bill in other states, ensuring “our advocacy better reflects our values”. It wasn’t enough to stop the anger, and Disney staff are planning a full-day walk out on 22 March.

Disney positions itself as a progressive and inclusive company, but its record on LGBTQ+ rights has been patchy in the past. Until the mid-1980s, it had a policy that prohibited same-sex couples from dancing together. It has been accused of giving financial donations to politicians supporting the ‘don’t say gay’ bill. And LGBTQ+ characters in Disney movies are thin on the ground. If it’s going to truly be the inclusive company it wants to be, it needs to overturn its historical record and do better at behaving in line with its stated values.

Article written by Polpeo co-founder, Kate Hartley

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