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If that’s your lawyer on the phone, hang up now!

By Randal Killip, Director at Profile For Media

I recall when I first began working in media in the early 2000’s that the one thing we had on our side as an issue broke for a client was time.

Back then the internet was seen as a strange and foreign creature that could not be trusted as a source for news, and other than talkback radio, we generally had time ahead of the evening news and the following morning papers to get our messaging right, no matter the issue.

Fast forward to 2018 and the era of social media, online news sites and the 24-hour news cycle and you now have minutes, rather than hours to get your message right.

When a significant issue does strike, this then places enormous pressure upon organisations to get it right and if they do not, then the fires of the ‘Twitterverse’ are literally set upon them.

The recent allegations of assault by men in positions of influence have been a case in point in recent months, with the producers of Craig McLachlan’s Rocky Horror Picture Show, the Gordon Frost Company initially wrong footed when allegations surfaced.

For the Gordon Frost Company their initial reaction, according to the accusers, was to take a legal approach to the allegations with strong denials and threats of defamation actions.

Once the accusers went to air on the ABC and through Fairfax media the organisations tone changed to one of investigation and the standing down of McLachlan, whilst stating they were shocked with the allegations.

With more women coming forward from not only the Rocky Horror, but other programs in which McLachlan had been involved, within 3 days of the story airing it was ‘mea culpa’ time for the Glen Frost Company, with management stating, “they could have done things better” and apologising to the accusers.

For the Glen Frost Company it was all too late with the damage to their reputation severe enough for reports to surface that the US management of the hit musical ‘The Book of Mormons’ would be taking over the Australian management of the show, amidst new bullying allegations.

Right now Victoria’s iconic tourist destination, Sovereign Hill is experiencing a similar issue, with management rolling out the “robust policies and procedures” defence against the claims currently being investigated by Victoria Police.

Time will tell whether that was the right play, or whether the ‘mea culpa’ of “we have to do better” is not too far away as the candles wick brightens.

This is to not to prejudge any investigations or current judiciary actions in relation to these allegations, as when it comes to serious allegations that have the potential to damage a brand, guilt or innocence is not actually important as the damage is done well before anything hits a courtroom.

So what should companies do when faced with such difficult circumstances?

Well firstly, do not rely upon your lawyer for advice on public relations, they may be fantastic at legal wrangling, but let’s face facts, PR is not a lawyers strength.

The very first call needs to be to a media advisor, not necessarily your PR agency, who may be brilliant at getting the puff piece in a magazine or on TV, but has little idea about how real news works.

Even in house PR staff are too close to the story, so having someone on speed dial who understands the flow of media, how quickly a story can flame in this modern age and is truly independent, is critical.

With such little time to respond, getting the message right immediately is critical and will help limit the serious damage that such stories bring to an organisation.

Whilst it’s all a little too late for the Glen Frost Company and Sovereign Hill, let’s reverse engineer a media response to the two stories, simply because we can.

For the Glen Frost Company, picture the outcome had they acted immediately to the allegations, before the accusers had even appeared on the ABC or in the Fairfax media, stood down their star, announced their own internal investigation and alerted police.

Their actions alone would speak volumes and any criticism would be on the accused, rather than the company.

Similarly for Sovereign Hill, by acting ahead of the story breaking and announcing that they had stood down staff members, were running an internal investigation, had informed police and were offering counselling to staff affected, then there would be no need to talk to ‘policy and procedures’, as they would have already spoken for themselves.

Getting a media crisis plan in place and seeking good media advice on any issue that has the potential to publicly damage an organisation is critical, so if you have not done so already, then if I was you I would not delay any further.

To discuss how to implement a media crisis plan, or any other media related topic, please reach out to Randal here

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