New report reveals companies failing to plan for communications response


How valuable is your reputation? Well, it seems to be low on the list of priorities according to a new report – Cyber Aftershock – from insurance broker Lockton. In its Cyber Security Report 2017, only 26% of companies involved their PR and communications teams in planning the response to a cyber breach.

While looking at cyber incidents, the key messages from the report apply equally to any sector or industry which is outward facing or who values their reputation.

You only have to look at reputational damage caused by recent high-profile cyber incidents, as well as computer failures, to see why it is important that boards and technical teams embrace the fact that PR and communications need to be involved in the response planning.

Bringing them in after an incident is too late as it immediately puts you on the back foot. Just as the IT and HR departments will have a plan, there needs to be a PR and communication strategy in place covering aspects such as stakeholder and customer responses, key communication channels and agreed messaging.

This makes sense when the report cites that fact that just under half of all UK business in the last year had at least one cyber breach rising to 66% for medium sized and 68% for large businesses. When a breach happens the regulators will ask about your response and how you communicated so it is important to have a fully integrated strategy.

As you never know when a crisis will strike, CM Consultants is experienced in offering practical advice in preparing your communication response and running scenarios to ensure you can give a robust response should an incident occur.

Our experience team, based across the UK, can provide a 24/7 response to support existing teams or become your media team while you concentrate on responding to the business challenge an incident has caused.

British Airways’ torrid weekend gives valuable lesson for crisis media management


“You can’t put a price on reputation” was how the BBC’s transport correspondent Richard Westcott ended his report into the IT meltdown suffered by British Airways over the Bank Holiday weekend.

The journalist’s point provides a valuable insight for any public facing organisation about how it should manage a crisis when it hits.

Watching the events unfold over the weekend it seemed as if BA had learnt nothing from the media drubbing it took when the opening of Terminal 5 turned to chaos in the face of a luggage system failure.

Over this Bank Holiday weekend no senior executive of the airline faced the media to explain the problem with reports repeatedly saying that “No one was available from BA”.

There was a short statement put on YouTube from the chief executive which should have been supplementary to facing the media. In fact it was not until Monday, that the BBC noted that BA’s chief executive had “broken cover three days after the problems started”.

It seemed as if the company was not in control of the situation and it became a major element of the news story that they had recently moved the IT support offshore while making most of the UK-based IT team redundant. The media also relied on anecdotal stories from travellers who also made it seem as if communication within the company had failed.

In these situations, no matter how difficult, a senior member of the management team should be made available to the media and appear to be transparent in explaining the problem and the steps being taken to get travellers on their way. It almost felt as if there was in fact no crisis media plan in place. For the media, the story became about how communication within the company had failed.

When Talk Talk suffered its data breach in 2015, CEO Dido Harding appeared frequently across all media to explain the problem and update on progress. It was showing leadership that she was prepared to face media scrutiny at a difficult time but realised the need to allay fears in order to protect the reputation and brand.

BA will have been severely damaged with compensation claims reported to be likely in the hundreds of millions. With more than 75,000 people affected and millions more watching and reading the news who will probably think twice about booking with the airline, the question posed about the price of a reputation will play out over the coming months.

What can be said is that a more proactive media response by BA could have minimised some of that cost.

Trump gives a masterclass in media mismanagement

press conference

The first 48 hours of the Trump presidency have been a masterclass in how not to handle media relations.

With an already fractious relationship between the media and Trump, the rapidly called press conference on Saturday by his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer has now set what is likely to be an unbridgeable void.

At the press conference, Spicer read a prepared script where he dismissed the story that there had been fewer people at Trump’s inauguration than at Obama’s despite there being incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. After making the statement Spicer left the room refusing to take questions or provide further evidence to rebut the media stories.

This conference came at the end of a day when after Trump’s first visit to the CIA he said of the media: “They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”

This gives three key lessons about working with the media:

Don’t alienate the press.

Spicer’s first appearance before the White House press corps should have been one of reconciliation after a fractious campaign and period between the election and inauguration. Instead he took a position of “we are right you are wrong”.

Don’t give facts that can’t be substantiated.

Pictorial evidence and figures from the Washington transport authorities instantly contradict Spicer’s claims. What he didn’t do was provide a basis to his rebuttal and what was the source of his claims. No substantiation was given and the media has continued the narrative which has kept the topic on the agenda.

This was compounded on Sunday when Trump advisors went on TV to justify Spicer’s action and say he was presenting ‘alternative facts’. That was generally derided as meaning ‘untruths’.

Don’t lose credibility

The main question is will the media trust Spicer? That is a question which will be answered in due course but Spicer’s credibility has been damaged and is likely to lead to more problems in the long-term. How will the media respond when there are more important issues to debate such as at times of crisis which with the nature of the job are sure to come.

Much of Trump and Spicer’s behaviour also appears to be a knee-jerk reaction when they feel they are not in control. Like any crisis or reputation management scenario there is a need to deal with the basics first and by doing that the outcome is much more likely to be more pleasing than the alternative we have seen.

Cyber-attack threat drives need for crisis and reputation plan

Businesses need to put a cyber-attack plan into action

A Financial Times article examines the business impact a cyber-attack has on a business and identifies the importance of having a response plan in place.

It highlights the importance of having crisis management and PR support in place as much as a planned IT and technical issues response.

As the article states: “Cyber security is clearly a board-level concern, but the expertise needed to manage it may not always be present around the table.”

The threat of an attack means that a business needs to look at the skills it has available and not be afraid to seek external advice where it may be needed.

In a six point action plan, the article cites crisis and reputation management as an integral part of a practised response to an attack. These may be skills and counsel which need to be externally sought.

The cyber-attack is now a very real threat for every business, no matter what size. Accountants PWC’s annual ‘global state of information security’ report found that, in 2015, 55% of businesses had been attacked in the last two years which reinforces the importance of having a plan in place should an attack strike.

As the Talk Talk breach showed in 2015, a company can soon be leading the news agenda and, with this growing threat, so comes the need to minimise the impact on a hard-won reputation which takes years to build and seconds to destroy.

Working with an experienced crisis and reputation management team and having a plan in place will reduce the impact on the business should the worst happen and allow the focus to be on business continuity and returning to business as usual as soon as possible.

Sharapova leads crisis management from the front

Tennis court crisis management

Whatever the outcome of Maria Sharapova’s failed drug test, and its ultimate impact on her future tennis career, the media handling of the announcement is a classic example of being in control of the message.

In the hours before her appearance in front of the world’s media in Los Angeles, the speculation on Twitter was that at the age of 28 she was to retire from the game after she used the social media platform to announce the press conference.

At this stage, no official announcement had been made by the world anti-doping body WADA and no leaks had emerged, which in the age of social media, can quickly lead to damaging speculation and loss of control of the message.

It cannot be overlooked that this is happening against a backdrop of allegations involving a Russian whose country is currently under scrutiny for an alleged doping programme involving Olympic athletes.

Her approach meant she was in the position to break the news of her failed drug test and to put forward her explanation as to why it happened. Sharapova didn’t leave it to legal representatives or her management team to face the media, she led from the front.

Whatever may come to pass with the case, and no judgement is made here, from a crisis communications and reputation management perspective her actions provide useful insights.

The Russian tennis star didn’t hide leaving the media seeking to track her down with potential images showing her seemingly running away. She admitted that she had been taking the substance for 10 years for medical reasons and had been caught by a rule change.

In the conference she was able to outline the case and provide her mitigation. The media were left to seek out more information about the substance rather than making the story a deconstruction of Sharapova and her achievements.

All of this is in contrast to the questions which surrounded Margaret Byrne, the chief executive of Sunderland Football Club, this week about how much she knew about the details of the case surrounding the team’s player Adam Johnson after he was found guilty in a court of law. As media interest grew she was reported to have left for her villa in The Algarve leaving a void and media speculation to grow for a week before she returned and resigned via a press statement.

There is much to learn from the handling of these contrasting situations and it will be interesting to see how Sharapova’s position progresses and if the tennis star is able to maintain control of the story. In contrast Sunderland was not in control of the developing story.

Key lessons for organisations from these situations are that it is important to act acting early as crisis or reputational issue arise, use a senior representative to lead and be open and honest about the situation.

FIFA’s reputation suffers an own goal

Crisis management at Fifa

‘Crisis, what crisis?’ was the lament in 2011 of FIFA President Sepp Blatter when he demonstrated a patronising attitude towards the media and their questions about mismanagement and even corruption within the organisation.

At the time I wrote a blog which considered his poor handling of a reputation management issue which had appeared to leave him more damaged. It may have been naivety from what was perceived to be a highly political operator or he knew something about the accusations being made.

Instead of answering the questions and putting the issues to bed, FIFA found that the journalists were like a sore which would not go away as they continued to pursue the story. They continued plugging away to find if there was a hidden truth.

Among the results was award winning investigative journalism from the Sunday Times which has played a major role uncovering evidence of potential wrong doing while Blatter saw it as a vendetta against FIFA in retaliation of England failing to win the bid for the 2018 World Cup.

While Blatter saw this as an attack on FIFA, there came a risk of contagion among sponsors – major brands whose reputations had the potential to be damaged by association. The media looked towards how they sponsors would react and waited to see who would blink first.

The investigations underway in the US and Switzerland will ultimately reveal any wrong doing.

The failure to deal with the issues and the ostracising of the media as this scandal unfurled has had an impact on the organisation’s reputation. It will take many years, and some skilled hands, to repair.

There are a whole other set of questions to be considered as to whether the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will ever be regarded as representing the “beautiful game” and the reputation management needed by their organising committees.

Men of Straw?

Reputations can be destroyed in an instant

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” – Benjamin Franklin.

The revelations about the gullibility of Sir Malcolm Rifkind or Jack Straw falling for an alleged media ‘sting’, illustrate that despite both having a combined political career spanning almost 80 years, their one moment of ‘madness’ has skewed whatever good either may have achieved during their parliamentary careers.

It also needs to be noted that Straw is facing a legal challenge about allegations over complicity in “extraordinary rendition”, which he denies.

Whatever happens in the days, months and years ahead, the perceptions about their standing is likely to be irrevocably damaged. It will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

This is despite the fact that Jack Straw practically did a tour of media outlets yesterday and didn’t hide away. Making himself available and putting across his side of the story will help to both minimise the damage and kill the story. Sir Malcolm was not so forthcoming and was doorstepped. This and his comments about being “self-employed” mean he’s had less control of the story though his decision not to stand at the next election was a pretty swift one.

People should never underestimate how quickly reputations can be destroyed. They join a potentially long list of parliamentarians who seem, if the price is right, to offer their services.

Of course, it is not illegal but shows how the rules regarding MPs and their consultancy activities need clarifying. I’m not sure Ed Miliband’s knee-jerk reaction will make any difference, particularly if the current wave of polls are to be believed, as he won’t be in a position to make his commitment a reality. If Labour fails to win the general election, or at least be the major coalition partner with Ed as PM, he will surely be replaced as leader and much of his personal policies made on the hoof replaced also.

Will these latest revelations make any difference to the outcome of the election? I remain unconvinced even though the media is getting excited, as it has been since the start of the year, with talk of UKIP, Green and SNP surges, the Lib Dems losing all but one seat, and the Tories and Labour being neck and neck.

Remember the last election, which was after the MPs expenses scandal and we heard how there would be a surge of independent candidates elected. We were told that there could even be personalities like Esther Rantzen in the House of Commons to keep a check on wrong doing.

It not only didn’t happen for Rantzen, who lost her deposit with just 4.4% of the vote, but it also didn’t happen for any of the other 334 ‘Independent’ candidates. What actually happened was that we saw some MPs who were themselves embroiled in the scandal even retain their seats!

In the weeks ahead as we move towards the full-blown election campaign there will no doubt be more ‘traps’ set for politicians and aspiring politicians. They are said to be done in the public interest and providing they are we should welcome and encourage such investigative journalism particularly in this age of transparency where reputation is everything.

As I hear more about Rifkind and Straw it brought to mind an interview I did, as a BBC journalist in Liverpool in the late nineties.

I questioned Jack Straw, who was Home Secretary at the time, for 15 minutes. Not only was it unusual to be given such one to one access to a Cabinet Minister, but the interview was highly illuminating and it was decided to broadcast it in its entirety as he covered everything from Bulger to Hillsborough to Ian Brady.

The one thing that has remained with me more than 15 years later is he asked for the recording equipment to be switched off when he wasn’t too keen to answer a particular question. Oh how he wishes the recording equipment had been switched off during his latest “under the radar” interview.

New 24/7 crisis response service launched


Two North West PR consultants have launched a new company offering a 24/7 crisis response service.

Richard Clein and Mark Perry, who both run their own communications agencies, have set up CM Consultants, providing specialist crisis response packages, with a dedicated team on call across the UK. This includes Cardiff-based former Good Relations Wales director Paul Shackson and experienced North West marketer Geraldine Turner.

Working with airlines, NHS, Government, PLCs, football clubs and high profile individuals in business, sport, politics and entertainment, the founding directors have successfully dealt with some of the biggest crises to hit the headlines in recent years.

Richard Clein MCIPR MPRCA, founding director of CM Consultants said:

“It takes years to build a good reputation and as many companies, businesses and individuals have experienced to their cost, it takes only seconds to ruin it.

“Many companies are simply not prepared and believe a “no comment” is most appropriate for media enquiries. This is because they feel priced out of ensuring a professional response when crisis hits.

“By offering clients affordable specialist packages, we guarantee that someone is always available to offer expert advice and on the ground support.”

Mark Perry MCIPR MPRCA, founding director of CM Consultants said:

“Too many agencies charge a premium price for crisis support but with no guarantees.

“Our team of trained former journalists and crisis experts provide a cost effective insurance policy giving peace of mind and allowing you to focus on resolving the issues you face.”

Clients can benefit from a wide range of issues management services including media training, statement writing, media liaison and crisis simulation exercises.