Campaign Abandonment and resumption of racing at Newbury Racecourse following the death of two horses by accidental electrocution
Client Newbury Racecourse
PR team HRSM and in-house
Timescale February 2011
The incident provoked widespread media speculation about the cause of death and resulting liability. The story dominated the national press in the following 48 hours and an extra 1,500 news articles appeared on Google the day after the incident. PR agency HRSM worked alongside NRC to implement an effective crisis comms strategy that would complement the ongoing investigation.
- To maintain NRC's reputation with key messages and actions
- To manage the demands of the media
- To communicate the circumstances of the incident and actions to be taken to all relevant parties including corporate partners, racegoers and racing bodies
- To reschedule the race meeting as quickly as possible.
Strategy and plan
It was important for NRC to clearly communicate how it was addressing the concerns of all involved in the incident, and show it was focused on the resumption of racing. The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and Southern Electricity Power Distribution (SEPD) launched an investigation to ensure it was safe for racing to resume. HRSM held a crisis comms meeting where key messages and actions were determined. NRC's joint MD Stephen Higgins acted as an official spokesperson to national and regional media.
NRC maintained regular communication with trainers, the media, racegoers and animal welfare groups to emphasise its close work with the BHA and SEPD on all aspects of the incident. This included providing conclusive evidence of the cause of death of the horses following post-mortems and communicating that the racecourse had been deemed safe.
Detailed and regular statements were issued that covered the cause of the incident and plans for the resumption of racing. Facebook, Twitter and newbury-racecourse.co.uk were updated with statements highlighting the abandonment and refund policy, alongside an acknowledgement of messages and support.
Measurement and evaluation
The crisis comms work resulted in 50 positive national and regional TV, radio and print media items. This included coverage in The Times, The Daily Telegraph, on BBC South Today, BBC Radio Berkshire, Channel 4 Racing, BBC Radio 5 Live, Sky Sports, Sky News and Racing UK.
The fixture was rescheduled within six days of the incident. The trainers and owners of the dead horses entered runners at the rescheduled meeting. All emails received by NRC were responded to following the incident. The campaign has been shortlisted for a PRWeek Award.
SECOND OPINION - RICHARD HENMAN, CEO, HENMAN COMMUNICATIONS
This incident had all the potential to be a huge PR disaster for Newbury, UK racing at large and associated stakeholders, Southern Electricity Power Distribution and the British Horseracing Authority.
The media interest in such a freak accident and the sad death of two horses was always going to be extremely high. With any crisis management situation, to avoid media speculation, it is crucial to deliver an effective comms strategy as soon as possible.
I remember watching this on TV and being very impressed by how well it was handled. There were regular media statements updating the TV audience, the tone was sensitive and continued reassurance was offered that racing would be resumed.
This was the correct strategy to adopt and certainly the positive and widespread media coverage post-campaign indicated that correct key messaging had been delivered. The fact that the fixture was rescheduled within six days and all emails received were responded to indicates that the campaign was professionally implemented.