Fresh eyes

What has 2012 taught us about crisis communications?

What has 2012 taught us about crisis communications
Paul Tustin Client Director PR & Comms Headshot

Written by Paul Tustin,
PR & Communications Director at Freshfield

This year has seen a one corporate communications calamity after the next – and only a fool would ignore the many salutary lessons to be learned about crisis communications and planning.

Have a plan in place for the ‘worst case scenario’ – NatWest IT outage

In June 2012 millions of NatWest Bank customers were hit by one of the industry’s worst ever computer breakdowns, leaving employers unable to make monthly salary payments. As the crisis moved into its fourth day, the bank, admitted it did not know when normal services would be resumed, but was confident it had identified the ‘technical glitch’ that had caused the problem.

The lesson here is to ensure you have a ‘worst case scenario’ planin place so you can communicate with stakeholders, rather than running in humiliating circles trying to cover for the lack of a plan.

The CEO has to play a central role – G4S Olympic staffing shortfall

G4S’ head of PR defended the media handling of the Olympics security fiasco by explaining that his CEO Nick Buckles was too busy ‘getting the delivery right’ to speak to the press. That this delivery was calamitously inept placed G4S and Nick Buckles in an untenable position.

The security firm had been paid £284m to provide up to 17,500 personnel for the 2012 Games, but fell woefully short of its target, forcing ministers to pull in thousands of military personnel. Two days after the story broke in the national press, Nick Buckles had still not given an interview. Eventually, he was summoned to appear before angry MPs – providing the media with a field day.

The lesson? If things do go wrong, your most senior individual must face the media – and no one else. Front line media communications must not be delegated in any circumstances.

Forewarned should be forearmed – Barclays bank lending rate rigging

Barclays knew this crisis was coming – which makes their lack of response all the more puzzling. Under pressure, Barclays boss Bob Diamond made a belated appearance, but too late to have any effect on the outcome and he subsequently lost his job.

Again, the lesson is to put up your senor figure immediately. But just as importantly, if you do see trouble on the horizon, take instant action – don’t stand there waiting for it to overwhelm you.

Learning from the experts

By contrast, the PR team at HSBC dealt with a potentially ruinous media crisis with speed and insight. When their ATM cash points packed in, HSBC took to Twitter, got statements out from their most senior people and explained to journalists exactly what they were doing. The result? Lower volumes of complaints, fewer dissatisfied customers, and praise for the communications team.

Preparing a communications crisis plan and keeping it under constant review is integral to any effective risk management strategy. For further advice, speak to Freshfield’s crisis communications specialists.

Recent News and Insights

5 communications tips for scaleup businesses
10QUESTIONS with Gemma Cornwall
10QUESTIONS with Laura Parkinson

Do you have a project that needs fresh eyes?

Get in touch

Fresh Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest news, insights, guest articles, and case studies, directly to your inbox

Sign me up