News International’s crisis handling under the microscope

News International’s crisis handling under the microscope

The first rule of crisis communications is to put the interests of your public before those of your corporation. Only by doing that, and showing  that you’re doing that, can you limit the damage.

It seems that nobody told that to Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks. The crisis has been on the boil for two weeks,  but it’s taken until today to hear some sympathy and concern for the people that really matter – the victims of phone hacking.  And that was just one line in Rebekah Brooks’ resignation statement.

Otherwise, we’ve heard plenty of self-justification, and pictures of Rebekah and Rupert grinning broadly outside his Mayfair pad. Asked about his priority, Rupert points at Rebekah and says “this one” with an arm around her shoulder. Pictures are incredibly powerful, and that one spoke of a corporation in denial – a corporation whose only interests are its own.

The second rule of crisis communications is to act decisively and fast. The last thing you want to do is to have actions, and in this case concessions, dragged out of you. Again, News International seems to have failed. It withdrew its takeover bid for BSkyB only after days of public and political pressure. Rebekah Brooks resigned two weeks after it became clear that her position was untenable. Rupert first said that he wouldn’t give evidence before a parliamentary committee, and then changed his mind.

News International is the latest in a long line of organisations to fall into these deadly traps in the heat of a crisis. You can see why they do it: there is a natural tendency to protest innocence and to try to salvage everything. Savvy organisations (well-advised organisations) know that you have to give ground in a crisis right away, to show that you’re doing the right thing. It’s painful and counter-intuitive, but in the long run it’s the only strategy that works.

Article date

July 15th, 2011

Robert Taylor

Media Trainer


My main passion is media training, and I’m proud to be one of the UK’s most experienced and successful trainers in this field.

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