George Eustice: Politics outshines business in a crisis

It is frequently suggested that politicians can learn from business, and governments are keen to bring businesspeople into the fold. But the one area where politics has nothing to learn from business is in the field of crisis comms. The blind panic of some of the large corporations taking part in the Government's Workfare scheme is a reminder that comms is not always something businesses do well.

George Eustice: Politics outshines business in a crisis
George Eustice: Politics outshines business in a crisis

The policy is benign enough: a voluntary scheme that gives a helping hand to young people looking for work. If they like their five-day trial period, they can commit for another two to eight weeks. In that period the companies would spend time and money helping prepare them for a job. It is a perfect example of corporate social responsibility.

When a small number of left-wing extremists orchestrated protests and an email campaign, a good comms operation would have stood its ground and been absolutely clear that they were helping these young people, not exploiting them. Instead, some companies panicked and ran for cover and, in the process, catapulted a non-story up the news agenda. Worst of all, by taking fright and caving in they made normal people question their integrity.

For all their inherent chaos, political organisations handle a crisis well. They get attacked every day and constantly have to navigate screaming front page headlines so are far better at taking acrimony in their stride. When they get hit by a crisis, within an hour there will be a conference call where six people decide a response and then execute it swiftly and competently.

In contrast, many companies suffer from having too many brand managers and not enough street fighters.

This fosters a timid approach where they hide from problems. When a crisis does hit them they are often found wanting and their command structures seem incapable of taking clear and timely decisions. The US campaigner Eric Dezenhall has argued companies should be less defensive and go on the attack to defend their reputation. Those companies that caved in last week would do well to read his book.

George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron.

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