The past few weeks must have been pretty stormy in the KPMG comms team. KPMG’s ex-chairman, Bill Michael, recently came under fire for making controversial remarks about his employees “playing the victim card” and “moaning” about their circumstances during the lockdown. The comms team reacted fast and the organisation was quick to make changes – and communicate them well! However, it’s unfortunate that most of the damage took place in a matter of days as Michael’s story trial was analysed and scrutinised by the media in no time at all. It’s clear that there is a lot of work to be done with repairing KPMG’s damaged reputation and the comms teams are more than likely sorting it as we speak, but what would you do if this happened to your organisation?

Of course, this question may feel like nothing more than hypothetical but getting stuck in these kinds of dilemmas isn’t as far away as you may want to believe. It could be something as simple as a video leaking of your CEO or Senior Director saying something in private that goes against the company vision or values. It could be a spokesperson retweeting something without fully understanding the implications. Or even just someone forgetting to change from their social media account to their personal account and tweeting something inappropriate from the company feed. It may seem unlikely, but these things have happened countless times before. Cast your mind back to 2017 when Uber’s founder Travis Kalanic’s argument with a driver was leaked – it cost him his job and a hit to his reputation. We’ve explored this further in our Reputation Shapers guide that you can access here.

There is no doubt that an over-exuberant or insensitive leader somewhere will make mistakes again, and there is so much being written right now about leading with empathy. But, how can you prevent this from happening in the first place and protect your organisation if the heavens open and you find yourself in the middle of a communications storm? Here are three tips to help with weathering the storm:

Take time to train

Just because someone is a good speaker doesn’t necessarily mean that they are ready to speak to the world. It is so important that senior teams are trained and fully briefed before stepping into the media limelight. And it’s not just about knowing how to speak well with the media, it’s about knowing how to stay on message and communicate appropriately. Similarly, it’s important to know what kind of person they are. Are they likely to lose their temper? Are they stubborn? If so, these things could become an issue and understanding what they may need and supporting them is equally as important.

Remember, it’s not just the media we have to be prepared for. The drama with KPMG stemmed from an internal discussion at a town hall, Uber’s issues arose from a leaked conversation with an employee and countless figureheads have been cancelled on social media for speaking out of turn. Just like the timeless saying goes: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Staying calm in a crisis

Being in a crisis, regardless of the situation, is a stressful ordeal for anyone to face but being prepared for it makes the experience a bit more palatable. With any media-related plans that have even the slightest possibility of turning sour, your comms teams must be prepared for a crisis situation.

If you aren’t prepared and something has come up to bite you, much like the KPMG comms team must have felt recently, the first step is to pause and understand just how damaging this is. Knowing what you are working with will help to rationalise the next steps and understand how much help and support you may need. This can also help to understand how rapid your response should be. Jumping on the issue too soon could make it seem insincere but leaving it too late leaves time for speculation to occur.

Secondly, what is the best way to communicate your response? Is it sending a press release, or holding a press conference? Or even just focusing on one interview to clear the person’s name? Whatever is the best practice for the situation, stick with that and follow it through until the end. Depending on the scenario, actions may be your next step. When looking at KPMG, the cultural lack of awareness might not end with the removal of the chairman but it’s a start – this needs to be followed up with proactive action from the company to get their reputation back on track to prove to their people, clients and the outside world that they are doing things to actively improve these situations.

Finally, ensure you are monitoring the situation and staying on your toes. Just because the news cycle is over, doesn’t mean it won’t come back to bite you!

Crystal clear communications

The vocabulary we use to communicate is just as important as the way we communicate. An easy way to ensure the right language is used is by accurately preparing for communications – this can be through detailed briefing documents with sections that focus on topics and phrases to actively avoid, or in-person training sessions. Granted, pressure or nerves may get in the way, and that cannot be helped, but giving support and practising should help to avoid potential mishaps.

The only thing worse than saying the wrong thing is saying nothing at all. When faced with a difficult question, it may feel safer to say “no comment” or divert from the question itself but this can be just as damaging. Recently, Matt Hancock came under fire from Piers Morgan on This Morning following the free school meals scandal. Instead of answering the question, Hancock merely recited the “safe” phrases and unsurprisingly, the interview spread like wildfire. Should his comms team have been prepared for this question? Absolutely! But communications can be unpredictable and with the power of social media, one foot in the wrong direction can become a crisis in a matter of minutes.

Getting it right with communications is tough – the world is unpredictable and what grabs people’s attention is changing every day. As comms professionals, we must ensure that we are prepared for all outcomes, good and bad. These tips will help you to prepare your teams and leaders for communications gone bad but sometimes it helps to get an outsider to help. We run workshops and personal coaching programmes that can help with these issues and prevent them before they arise – you can read more about our services and offerings here.

Countless people have said it, but this year really was anything but predictable. Despite the sudden change, the year wasn’t all doom and gloom. Mental health was discussed more, social justice movements really accelerated, carbon emissions dropped at the height of lockdown, Animal Crossing had its time in the limelight, and most of us learnt how to make bread and other baked goods.

With 2020 almost behind us, we’ve been having some great discussions here at Firefly about what we think the year ahead holds, so here are six of the main trends we’ve come up with that we think will have a huge impact on the world of comms in 2021.

Stronger communication of social and political movements 

This year, we have seen social justice efforts dialled up drastically. Hugely important topics such as climate change, animal rights, and wellbeing were brought to the awareness of the masses more so than ever before this year. However, the most powerful of which was undoubtedly the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement this year, where many stood in solidarity to fight against racial oppression and reflected on the prejudices within their own societies. The impactful global movement not only brought these issues to the front of everyone’s minds, but it also prompted action from a number of organisations and effective communication became key.

As we approach 2021, it is likely that topics much like these will continue to surface, causing a shift in both corporate and consumer behaviour. Responding in the wrong way, or not responding at all, can have a negative knock-on effect on the reputation of individuals and/or companies, so being prepared for communicating on issues will be a key consideration as we enter the new year. 

Move over media relations

In the coming year, the face of PR will change, even more so than it has already. Companies, and particularly in-house PR teams, are focusing less and less on traditional media coverage. Of course, the media remains an important audience to communicate to, but comms specialists must start to look at the reputation all around them, not just in the media. Finding the right means of communication will become crucial to helping build or improve the reputation of organisations or individuals. With tactics such as SEO, employer branding, and other reputation-building tactics becoming more and more impactful, it’s clear that media relations alone simply won’t cut it anymore. As an industry, we must start to adapt, develop, and innovate in 2021, pushing communication to its full potential.

Tim believes that “The best campaigns nowadays hit different audiences, in different ways, and at different times, and the truth is that media relations on its own doesn’t usually deliver that as effectively as a wider comms campaign.”

Cancel culture continues on

Prior to this year, we knew cancel culture was a thing, but with the power of social media and the increase of social justice movements, both the extent and frequency has increased a fair bit. Most infamously this year was the fall of the once beloved writer, J.K. Rowling who voiced opinions that many deemed as anti-transgender. Despite numerous attempts to repair her reputation by demonstrating support and clarification on her opinions, J.K.’s cancel saga continues.

So far, the comms industry has had some trouble with understanding and getting to grips with cancel culture. And this is only expected to get harder in the coming year. Our words, especially on social media, can make a huge impact. Now that those involved in cancel culture know that it works, it’s likely that this will only increase just how much they partake in the public shaming of brands. Going forward, we must start to take cancel culture seriously.

For anyone who’s still new to cancel culture or wants to learn a bit more, we wrote a blog about it recently. You can read it here.

The battle against misinformation continues 

We wrote a blog last year about deepfakes being a big threat to the media, and the efforts of those involved in spreading misinformation have really ramped up since. The pandemic has caused a huge amount of misinformation to be spread as many questioned the virus, the causes and eventually the vaccine. In retaliation, the World Health Organisation coined the phrase “infodemic” to explain this plethora of information and its rapid spread. Social media giants even began to crack down on misinformation by flagging posts that may have inaccuracies or be deceptive – hopefully, this will be just the start of the likes of Facebook and Twitter preventing the spread of fake news.

In the next year, it’s likely we will begin to see some real innovation in this area and a shift in behaviour, but it won’t be easy. Comms will have a tricky year ahead trying to deliver accurate, reliable, and credible information, and if the culture of misinformation continues to grow and become more mainstream, this will cause even more challenges!

Empathy, care, and continued commitment

After being subject to nationwide and local lockdowns, where many of us were unable to see our closest friends and families, we all needed a little boost. Everyone has already begun to pay close attention to their own mental wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around them. Even the government has begun to comment on this too. With so much focus on this, it is almost definitely something that will impact the year ahead. For comms professionals, communicating with care is key and care should be top of the agenda for leaders too.

Christian thinks that “The Covid-19 vaccine will take a long time to change the world stage, so people will be working remotely for some time yet. This means that leaders must continue being inspiring, motivating their staff, and making difficult decisions for some time yet. It’s time to dig deep and communicate clearly, powerfully and responsibly.”

Planning for uncertain times

As we know, this year hasn’t been predictable at all, and actually, it’s uncertain just how much we can know about the next year. Despite the uncertainty, we can plan for the year ahead by ensuring there is fluidity interwoven into our plans. Pre-Covid, it was easy enough for us to plan around big events, or key moments in the calendar for the following year. Due to the vaccine being distributed, we can almost start planning in this way again, but we must ensure we have a back-up plan if these milestone moments in the year are postponed or cancelled.

According to Charlotte, “A full, detailed yearly plan has not been ‘a thing’ for a while, things change far too fast to look that far ahead. There is still uncertainty around the corner, so comms planning must be fluid and we must give ourselves room to flex, to either face new challenges or take advantage of new opportunities.”

There are, of course, countless other trends that are likely to make an impact in the year ahead, but these are the six we really think you, as a comms professional, would benefit from keeping a close eye on. This year has been an interesting one to say the least, but we’ve all learnt a lot, and despite the uncertainty, some great things have happened. From us at Firefly, we hope you have a wonderful festive break, enjoy time with loved ones, and recharge those batteries for a brilliant new year ahead. And of course, hopefully the newfound baking skills many of us picked up in lockdown can come in handy for whipping up some festive treats while playing Michael Bublé on repeat!

For the last few years, Greece has been a byword for financial and political upheaval and associated with one catchy word: ‘Grexit’. The fear that Greece’s unsustainable debt and sclerotic economy would lead to the country crashing out of the Eurozone was the spectre that haunted world leaders and financial markets throughout 2011 and 2012.

This panic was fed by ever-rising public debt, an unending recession and alleged ubiquitous corruption. Whilst these are all valid reasons for investors to be wary, it’s my view that the global hysteria surrounding ‘Grexit’ was aided by undisciplined communications and ill-judged media appearances.

The Greek economy undeniably has structural flaws that caused serious problems in the Eurozone, but a great deal of the hysteria surrounding ‘Grexit’ could have been ameliorated by PR basics: careful positoning and disciplined messaging.


Ever since 2010 when then-Prime Minister, George Papandreou, announced that Greece would be seeking an EU-IMF ‘bailout’, these PR basics have been lacking. The media has received confused, contradictory messages from the IMF, the various EU institutions and members and – above all – the Greek government.

A stream of negative pronouncements from leading figures served only to compound the hysteria building in the media. Papandreou himself made several misjudged performances, first announcing that his country was riddled with “endemic corruption” and then – just a few months before Greece’s first bailout – telling a forum in Davos that the country’s problems were “home grown” and “required no foreign loans”.

For the representative of any organisation to talk to the media in such terms is, as any PR will know, ill-advised. On the part of the varying EU stakeholders, the “will-they/won’t-they” vacillations of Merkel, Sarkozy et al concerning a potential bailout simply allowed the noise surrounding ‘Grexit’ to grow.

When faced with a crisis, beware: the media abhors a vacuum. Fail to issue a coherent message and this vacuum will be filled, one way or another. In the case of the Eurozone crisis, the media filled it with ‘Grexit’, an angle that nearly became a self-fulfilling prophecy – such is the power of communication in a globalised world.

In recent months, the negative narrative surrounding Greece has begun to lift. This is the other side of the communications coin: careful positioning and a disciplined message will yield tangible results.

The coalition government of Antonis Samaras, put together in June 2012, has made a concerted effort to sing from a positive hymn sheet. Adapting the popular ‘Grexit’ portmanteau, stakeholders have begun to push the narrative that the country has turned a corner. With the worst behind it – they claim – Greece can now be associated with a new word: ‘Grecovery’. What is fascinating about this from a PR perspective is that, despite very few actual green shoots, the ‘Grecovery’ narrative is taking hold in the media. In spite of an economy that shrank by a whopping 5.6% in the first quarter, 2013 has seen comparatively few negative stories about the Greek economy.

Just as speculation surrounding ‘Grexit’ pushed the country to the brink, so too could ‘Grecovery’ become a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. In a globalised economy, confidence is paramount. Investors reading stories couched in the language of recovery, who perceive the country to have turned a corner, will be all the more likely to invest and actually help make those perceptions a reality. Already Greece is predicted to experience its best year ever in terms of overall tourists visiting the country, with an unprecedented 17 million arrivals are anticipated.

There is no doubt in my mind that many of the visitors, travel agents and airlines involved are doing so thanks to the ‘Grecovery’ narrative, a clear demonstration of the power of good communications. For PR professionals, the lessons to be learned from Greece’s travails are simple: disciplined messaging and a coherent narrative are paramount. In other words, whatever the crisis, keep calm and carry on.

Well, who’d have thought it? O2’s twitter-based customer service team can hold their own conversing with customers using street slang. The Twitter exchange between a customer and the official O2 Twitter feed last week – all conducted in slang – has entertained most people in the comms industry.

The timing is interesting because I was on a CorpComms Precise Exchange panel debate with O2’s head of media and comms, Nicola Green last week, where we were discussing social media crises, particularly referencing O2’s outage earlier in the summer – which also earned plaudits.

One of the points I made was that dealing with a communications issue (I hate the term social media crisis; it implies that social media is this separate entity) is that consumers’ response to brands’ faults has a lot to do with their likeability. In other words, there’s an upfront investment from the brand to ensure that it’s liked by its customers. If it is, then they’ll forgive pretty much everything.

Nicola’s response to that was, “fine – but don’t ever take your likeability for granted”. I couldn’t agree more.

But the issue of likeability has been playing on my mind for a while. Why do some brands get absolutely crucified by their customers on social networks when they make a mistake and others seemingly get away with it.

Apple is the perfect example. There have been countless product issues with Apple over the years. I’m not just referring to the recent Maps debacle or not being able to make a call with an iPhone 4 left-handed, but just the day to day problems with hard-drives failing or issues with customer service. It’s not that Apple just market their products better or they look nice – though they are factors – there’s an indefinable element that gives Apple’s reputation a teflon-coating.

The issue of likeability came sharply into focus when I read Likeonomics, by Rohit Bhargava, recently. It’s a must-read book for communications professionals.

In Likeonomics, Bhargava proposes that there is a modern believability crisis that makes our jobs as marketeers and communications professionals difficult. These are factors that mean that people just don’t believe what they’re told by consumer brands, businesses, government bodies and the media any more.

The first problem is that we live in an age of spin – where the truth is often stretched or even broken. When talking about spin, we often think of politicians, but it’s organisations that are guilty of this too.

The second factor is corporate speak. This is well-trodden theory, particularly for anyone who’s read 1984, but it always amazes me that time and time again, organisations revert to language that is devoid of humanity to explain a problem or apologise. It’s worse too when you get the non-apology. It’s one of the reasons why the O2 response has been lauded.

Thirdly, Bhargava identifies the volume problem. We are bombarded with so many messages, social media and otherwise, that it makes people default to a defense mechanism of distrusting everything. I’m not sure I agree with that, but the volume issue does make it harder to reach everyone.

Finally there’s the consumer protection factor. Here Bhargava says that there are so many government agencies and third party groups dedicated to protecting consumers, that ironically this consumer education has made people very distrustful.

You can see that addressing these factors will go a significant way to improving an organisation’s reputation. But there’s more to it than that. Brands, employers, politicians, government bodies and the media need to bridge the “Likeability Gap”. Because everyone is either ambivalent or negative as a default, it takes a lot to make them proactively positive towards your brand or organisation.

Bhargava says that the five key principles to bridge the Likability Gap are:

1. Truth
2. Relevance
3. Unselfish
4. Simplicity
5. Timing

I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book to find out how these can addressed, but Truth is probably the one that will resonate most with communications professionals (I’ve never met a PR or comms professional comfortable with stretching the truth or lying on behalf of their client or employer).

People respond to unexpected honesty and being provided with unbiased facts. And when served up to the relevant audience, in a timely fashion, in a simple, non-corporate speak, it is very powerful indeed.

To buy Likeonomics, click the link below:


Our head of business and digital, Phil Szomszor, will be taking part in a CorpComms panel debate entitled “Coping With Social Media Crises” this Thursday morning, which is run in association Precise.

It is part of a series of Precise Exchange breakfast events and will focus on advice for comms professionals on the right tools and approach for dealing with online communications difficulties.

Phil will be on the panel alongside Mark Flanagan (Portland Communications), Nicola Green (Telefonica) and Richard Stokoe (London Fire Brigade). If you would like to attend this event, please contact If you can’t make the event, then you can still follow the action on Twitter by following CorpComms and Precise.

Ninety per cent of souvenirs for the 2012 Olympics were made abroad, according to recent headlines.   The London 2012 Organising Committee must have known the story would eventually break and outcries would follow, but how well did they do with reputation management?

The first rule of journalism is to “inform and entertain” and this story has everything: a global event, a damning statistic, and a reason people should care. It plays on the subconscious expectation that everything associated with London2012 should ultimately benefit everyday Britain, an expectation carefully crafted by the backers of the bid (and undoubtedly, PR consultants) in the first place.

Therefore my initial reaction, like many others’, was one of anger. Then I wondered how those responsible could defend themselves. I found it – starting with paragraph 10 in the Daily Telegraph’s report:

“Ninety per cent of our licensees are British companies and those which aren’t UK companies all have UK offices, employing UK staff.

“All London 2012 products have their design, development and creative work done in the UK and as a result of winning these licenses, companies are employing more staff in the UK.”

It makes sense. As Locog explained, many products supplied and sold by British companies are made overseas. For whatever reason and unconnected to the upcoming Olympics, Britain is based on a knowledge economy. This country has not been a manufacturing power for some time. If what Locog is saying is true, there is a very good defence to the Telegraph’s story. Their response was completely omitted from the Daily Mail’s report.

That is journalism folks. “90 per cent of souvenirs made abroad” is much more entertaining than “90 per cent of London 2012 licensees are British companies”.

Locog should have been much more aggressive in their response to this story and stamped out the possibility of the issue arising again. What journalist in their right mind would refuse a phone call with Sebastian Coe to hear his side of the story? As the story was covered by only a small number of publications (it didn’t cause a global uproar), his response could even have been sold in as an exclusive to guarantee a big piece.

What actually happened? A reactive ‘statement’ from a ‘Locog spokesman’ buried beneath emotive, intricate examples of souvenirs produced abroad, such as “…Union Jack-emblazoned tea cups, crystalware, tea towels and even fluffy toys on sale were produced by foreign workers.”

Stamping this out with a proactive public relations offensive would have helped educate people on the reality of the situation. Instead, nothing was done, and four days later The Independent reported London 2012 tickets printed in Arkansas.

Locog, our new business chap’s name is Fraser, if you’re interested.

This week has seen some big PR campaigns kick off; marking the real start of 2012, in terms of planned PR activity. Perhaps most noticeably, Tropicana’s “Brighter Mornings” campaign, that saw a good tranche of print coverage (plus over 600,000 video views to-date and Twitter and Facebook debate a-plenty). There’s also been evidence of garnering social media in a planned fashion throughout the week, for power-brands Snickers and Lynx, amongst others.

But sometimes the most powerful PR stories are the ones that, to some extent, are unfortunately out of the PR person or team’s control.  The Twitter storm that erupted on Tuesday afternoon over LA Fitness was a perfect example of a story that seemed to suddenly become the responsibility of the public relations or social media team.

Starting off as a reader letter in The Guardian, the Twitterati picked up on the story when a member of the public contacted the LA Fitness UK Twitter feed, asking for them to comment on the case.

For anyone who missed the Twitter storm around this case, at the centre of it was a married couple from Billericay who were trying to cancel their LA Fitness contract after six years of membership. Their case was compelling for a combination of reasons: the need for cancellation was due to pregnancy, redundancy and a home move 12 miles away; and yet they were being held to a two-year notice period.  The Guardian took over negotiation on the couple’s behalf, but even after thorough investigation of rights, was only able to negotiate the required notice period down to six months (incidentally, the length of many board director notice periods, to put this in context).

A Guardian reader tweeted @LAFitnessTips on Tuesday afternoon, asking for them to comment on the story. In my view, it seemed to be the coldly corporate @LAFitnessTips tweet, which was – to paraphrase – “we do not comment on individual cases”, that started the thunderstorm.  (Incidentally, this seemed entirely incongruous in light of the “We’ll get there together – in the gym, in life and online” that is LAFitness’ 140-character Twitter biog.  What a lovely brand personality… that was not in this case, practiced).  Incidentally, the offending tweet has since been removed, in a careful erase of social media history, to be replaced with a series of well-messaged, carefully-worded tweets.

The power of the Twitterari, which in this case included Caitlin Moran and her 180,000+ followers, soon turned the case around.  The same day, LA Fitness withdrew all charges and all contractual obligations on the couple.  This is the power of social media in practice.  But sadly, the way in which this was done left the brand rather more workout-weary than post-exercise exhilarated.

Looking forward, my advice to LA Fitness is that to succeed in the social space, the customer services team must be properly integrated with other core channels, and the front line (and boy, must it have felt that way on Tuesday!) must have the correct support and training for successful issues management.

So, McDonalds, LA Fitness, even Tom Watson’s intern have all been the source of Twitter backlash this week. What’s next and what will we continue to learn along the way?

We live in an age of nano-PR, when a mere symbol (#) followed by a few words smashed together (justlikethis) can spell glory or doom for your PR campaign. Here is a recent example of the latter, which was brought to my attention in this post by Gordon Macmillan. In a nutshell, a McDonald’s campaign to highlight its (presumably positive) relationship with food growers was hijacked when the company started using the #McDStories hashtag, versus the more deliberate #MeetTheFarmers. Then came a torrent of unflattering tweets about customers’ McDonald’s experiences – ranging from a chipped tooth, to upset tummies resulting from innocent consumption of Micky D’s fare.

Cautionary tale or plain bad luck? I think the author’s comment about McDonald’s being a brand that polarises people is clearly a valid one. Invitations to engage via social media carry risk; and in this case, when is it ever NOT open season for mega-brand, fast food bashing? Or was it merely a case of – to cite another post from the Wall – a hashtagfail?

Contrast this with the Twitter campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which used the hashtag, #factswithoutwikipedia, referring to the Wikipedia blackout. The tweets ranged from the absurd (“Charlie Sheen is a model citizen”) to the all-out silly (“The Great Wall of China was built to keep the rabbits out”).  But the owners of the hashtag got their point across. True, they were riding the already huge crest of anti-SOPA sentiment.  But the hashtag was well-crafted: it got people to think, get creative, then comment, versus issuing a more deliberate call to action (e.g., #signthepetition). You could say the McDStories hashtag achieved all of this; but in doing so, it exposed a certain lack of self-awareness about the full range of customer sentiment that would be on offer.

What’s been your favourite, PR campaign-generated hashtag? And do you think the direct (#dothisrightnow) or subtle (#youknowyouwantto) approach works better?

The capsizing of the cruise ship Costa Concordia on Friday night off the coast of Italy is a human tragedy and a public relations crisis writ large. So far, we have seen the death toll rise to eleven passengers, with many more injured and the threat of an ecological disaster. The reaction by the cruise liner in its communications has caused a stir due to its (very quick) decision to release unsubstantiated information.

Crises, by their nature, are very unpredictable. There’s no knowing when they will strike, and no amount of preparation is a guarantee against further surprises. Based on our own experiences of helping clients through crises, they can be a daunting challenge for even the coolest head and the steadiest hand.

Having read through the reports of what happened, the most surprising part of the communications is how quick Costa was to point the finger. In a statement issued on its website, the company said, “While the investigation is on-going, preliminary indications are that there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship’s Master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences.”  Not giving a statement is a disaster in itself, but jumping the gun could prove to be much worse.

The public spat between the captain and the cruise line operator will be seen as insensitive and ill-timed, having occurred before any official investigation was carried out to determine what actually happened. This does nothing for the survivors, the families of those still missing, not to mention Costa’s overall reputation.

Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easy, from a comfortable distance, to critique how a company handled a PR crisis. But some things on the Costa Corcondia update page, reading in chronological order, may have resulted in more questions than answers. For example, there was a four-hour gap between their first official statement and the acknowledgment of a tragedy. That said, “victims” are referred to in the second statement without any prior mention of fatalities. In addition, the emergency contact details for families were not issued until (an agonising) eleven hours after the accident. There was also no human face stepping forward early on, to express the compassion and grief that was only referenced in their press statements.

Our best advice for companies in this situation is to be in possession of the full facts. For any company who unfortunately finds itself in the midst of a crisis, it’s about knowing exactly what has happened. Ensure the chief executive is available (a spokesperson of this level of seniority is the most appropriate in such cases) and provides regular updates. Make sure that only information that is factual and accurate is relayed. The company should do all it can to help the people affected, putting lives first over commercial interests.

The blame game is a dangerous route to take. It creates the impression that a company will jump to conclusions before all the facts are known. In Costa’s case, the cruise ship’s black box has still not been released and investigators haven’t reached a definitive conclusion. In addition, what if investigations conclude that the captain was not to blame and lack of training or an engine failure was the reason?

Crisis comms is often judged on the quality of the information, timeliness of response, the channels of communications used, and the (promised) actions taken. Only time will tell whether Costa got the first part right.

When a PR crisis looms, it can be quite a scary and spooky time for all. Here are a few pointers of what not to do when you find yourself in that situation.

The zombie – being slow off the mark
As soon as you are made aware of a potential crisis, begin planning straight away. There’s no use waiting until it’s public or you’ll be on the back foot. Every crisis is different so it is important to give yourself enough time to devise the best possible strategy. Are you in crisis mode?

1. Is the effect minimal if no action were taken?
2. Can it be contained internally?
3. Will it affect reputation and profits?
4. Is it out in the media already?
5. Could it undermine day-to-day performance or value of the company?

If it’s yes to 3, 4, or 5 – it’s a crisis!

The bat – hiding in the dark
Don’t just hide thinking it will all go away, in a lot of cases this will make it worse. Keeping an ear to the ground and monitoring the media is essential. Take a moment to analyse the situation, look at your options, think of all possible action you could take – and the repercussions of each for your stakeholders – and devise a plan of action. Tell it all, tell it fast and tell it now is the holy mantra against all evil crisis matters.

The gravediggers – digging yourself a hole with the media
Don’t treat the media like an enemy by telling them you won’t talk to them again. Bad mouthing them in public is also a bad idea. In the short term you get an angry reporter, in the long term you’ll have jeopardised a potentially important relationship. Continue to conduct yourself in a calm and professional way putting aside your emotional reaction to the situation. This way you are more likely to better manage the situation.

The hocus pocus – speaking a language no-one understands
React in plain English, using jargon and acronyms will just confuse people further. Ensure you are prepared with agreed language and messages to go out with, keeping your communications succinct and consistent. Effectively handled, this will reassures investors, employees and other stakeholders that the situation is in hand.

This post was written by Charlotte.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

We operate in London, Paris and Munich, and have a network of like-minded partners across the globe.

Get in touch

Sign up to Spark, our newsletter

Receive thought pieces from our leadership team, views on the news, tool of the month and light relief for comms folk

You can unsubscribe at any time, please read our privacy policy for more information