Why silence, not fundraising tactics, sunk GoGen

The demise of GoGen last weekend was an object lesson in the dangers of not refining your crisis comms response.

Finding yourself in the national media spotlight is a terrifying place to be when it’s not expected, writes Emily Dent
Finding yourself in the national media spotlight is a terrifying place to be when it’s not expected, writes Emily Dent
Its fall is a stark reminder of the need to act fast when a crisis hits. Once Katherine Faulkner’s piece appeared in the Daily Mail, there was no undoing it; the report was out there, and it held all the hallmarks of a juicy story, coming out just weeks after the tragic death of Olive Cooke, who allegedly killed herself after feeling "hounded" by charity fundraisers.

OK, there was no way of making the coverage disappear, but there was a way for GoGen to rescue its tarnished reputation – it just wasn’t used in time. 

Now the company has gone into administration, resulting in an unexpected gap in the fundraising space and the loss of hundreds of jobs across the country.

Suddenly finding itself in the national media spotlight – a frankly terrifying place to be when it’s not expected – GoGen said nothing of any real substance. 

A statement confirming that activities were "on hold for the time being" was issued, but nothing was said about the particulars of the case. 

Days passed and no spokesperson was put forward to offer any further insight into the reported facts of the case, the context around it, or the various possible solutions being explored. 

The media don’t stop covering a story when no comment on the facts of a case is offered; quite the reverse. 

Soon the piece had appeared in The Guardian, The Telegraph and the BBC. By Saturday the Prime Minister was commenting on it. Left a few days, a negative piece of coverage in one paper became a full-scale disaster for the firm, with clients now suspending contracts with it, presumably (in part, at least) through fear of feeling the brunt of the negative backlash themselves.

There could be a myriad of reasons for the lack of a fuller public statement from GoGen, and no doubt there were numerous conversations going on behind closed doors, but the general public didn’t know this. 

All they had heard was one side of the story, and nobody was offering them an alternative point of view.

The only thing that would have stopped the public outcry in its tracks was a response from the company, addressing the issues head on. 

Once something has hit the press, PRs behind the scenes need to start acting fast – and we’re talking minutes, not days.

The ‘boiler room tactics’ alleged – such as asking people to donate three times, and making them feel guilty for not doing so – made many feel uncomfortable, and this unease was exacerbated by the unfortunate timing of the story. 

That said, without some sense of guilt, arguably nobody would donate to charity. Whether entirely at fault or not, GoGen needed to explain itself, and to take back some control. 

With fundraising targets to meet for vital causes, it seems a few bad apples became a little too enthusiastic in their attempts to raise money. This isn’t what brought GoGen to its knees, though.
The media storm, and the company’s subsequent silence on the specific issues raised, is why it is no longer here. 

It is a terrible, terrible shame that a 15-year-old-charity-serving company has now closed its doors because of a PR issue that got out of hand, not to mention nearly 500 people who have now lost their jobs as a result of it.

Emily Dent is PR director at crisis comms agency Rampart PR

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