How to protect reputation – what we can learn from 2018

2018 was remarkable for the sheer number of major brands that faced reputational crises and faltered.  To mention just a few:  Facebook (data breaches); H&M (advert causes offence); Oxfam (sex scandal in Haiti); TSB (IT failure); Gatwick Airport (drones); Pret A Manger (fatal allergy), Ryanair (passenger footage of alleged racist incident).  In every case, crisis media training would have prevented some of the self-inflicted damage caused by unprepared and out-of-touch spokespeople or slow and ineffective press offices and communications teams.

Whilst some brands make mistakes repeatedly (Facebook, Ryanair), 2018 was a stark reminder that every good name is at risk and every organisation that values its reputation should invest in training.  Oxfam made things spectacularly worse for itself in February 2018 when its Chief Executive lamented to a journalist that the reaction to its sex scandal (aid workers using prostitutes in Haiti) was exaggerated.  Mark Goldring told the Guardian newspaper:  “The intensity and the ferocity of the attack makes you wonder, what did we do? We murdered babies in their cots?” Inevitably, Mr Goldring announced he would step down at the end of the year.  In April 2018, the boss of TSB, Paul Pester, admitted the bank was “on our knees” amidst a catastrophic IT failure that lasted for months.  Five months later he resigned.

What these and other examples show is that high quality crisis training is not an optional extra.  Learning how to effectively handle media attention when things go badly wrong is an essential investment.  Failure to invest in this way risks much more than the loss of a single figurehead.  The long-term effects of loss of trust can include flight of customers, cancelled contracts, delayed investment and loss of market share.  To make things worse, an inability to get ahead of the crisis will almost certainly guarantee on-going media scrutiny that produces further damaging stories.

Brands attending TNR crisis media training workshops and courses include: banks, theme parks, charities, retailers and many others who simulate crises under the direction of real journalists. These organisations face their worst nightmares in a safe environment, where making a mistake won’t risk their good name and their bottom line.  The result of training is that they develop effective strategies for handling the media and are in a strong position to limit reputational damage when a crisis hits.  It’s a risky, irresponsible strategy indeed to believe that your frontline staff will manage without training. Surely reputation is too precious to take that gamble?

Bridgid Nzekwu is Director of Media Training at TNR, part of the Press Association, where she coaches spokespeople in business, politics and the public sector in media interview and public speaking skills.  In 2018, Bridgid was named ‘Outstanding Woman in Professional Services’ at the Precious Awards, in recognition of her work as a media trainer.  She is a former Channel 4 News presenter and reporter and continues to present news programmes as a freelance anchor for ITV News. 

Follow Bridgid on Twitter @BridgidNzekwu

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