Those ‘OMG… I’m going to get fired!’ moments in the life of a PR are actually quite rare. Thankfully. But they are moments that stay with you for ever. My biggest OMG moment came on 17 January 2008 when a relative non-story (I would say that, wouldn’t I?) around the temporary closure of a property fund made the front page splash of the Guardian with a screaming “Northern Rock style run on fund” narrative (on the same day a plane crash landed at Heathrow, by the way).
It was entirely my fault. I didn’t think the story was that big, the journalist I pre-briefed did.
Things really kicked into ‘Crisis Management’ mode the day that story broke. I dragged my sorry self into the office and sheepishly apologised to the CEO and Director of Comms, who were remarkably understanding under the circumstances. I dusted off the Emergency Response manual and got to work drafting reactive statements, taking and making calls and tried to kill the story before it got out of hand. And it worked, more-or-less. The following stories were all balanced and fair and it all blew over relatively quickly. And I wasn’t fired.
But it only worked because there was a process in place to manage a crisis scenario. Everyone around me pulled together. Everyone followed the plan and there was no blame or recrimination.
I only mention this because when I was reading the Davis report of the inquiry into the events relating to the press briefing of information in the FCAs 2014/15 business plan this morning – admittedly with a certain amount of Schadenfreude – something struck me as a bit bizarre.
Actually, a few things struck me as bizarre, but this above all others:
4.94 – When the events unfolded on 28 March 2014, the FCA was taken by surprise. There was no emergency action plan in place to deal with an adverse market reaction to a story which appeared to have originated with the FCA.
There was no Crisis Management plan in place! That’s frankly unbelievable and unforgivable given the size and influence of the FCA.
If there had been a proper action plan in place, I’m sure that something could have been done to lessen the impact of the story. Instead, it looks like a bunch of people ran around panicking whilst simultaneously donning Teflon suits, rather than just manning-up, taking responsibility and knuckling down quickly to minimise the damage to the industry.
And there’s the lesson for all of us in communications and PR. Stuff happens. Mistakes are made from time to time. But when things go wrong, if you don’t have a plan to put it right, quickly, events will take over and you’ll be left looking a little bit useless.
It really is this simple. Plan for the worst* and hope for the best.
*We can help you do this by the way. And it won’t cost you £4m.