We must learn from Grenfell Tower; as communicators it's our responsibility

Humility in a time of crisis that should have underpinned the response to the Grenfell Tower fire; instead, there were holes all over the developer's response.

The Grenfell Tower block fire, in which 12 people have so far confirmed to have died (© Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images)
The Grenfell Tower block fire, in which 12 people have so far confirmed to have died (© Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images)

On Wednesday morning I, like so many Londoners, woke up and turned on the radio to hear of reports of a fire in a residential block in West London, with the inevitable closures to the surrounding network of roads.

It was only when I had got into the office at 7.30am and turned on my computer that I realised the magnitude of the fire at Grenfell Tower and the devastating damage.

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Much like any other professional working in communications, and specifically in the property sector, I wondered what the cause was, who the developer behind it was and how quickly they would respond to the dozens of requests from both journalists and members of the public.

After a brief search, the developer appeared, yet the case study of their involvement on the website was seemingly inaccessible and, soon after, screengrabs appeared to demonstrate that copy had been edited overnight.

Despite appearing in The Times just the day before, this little-known company was today being referenced by CNN, Aljezeera and the UK’s most preeminent broadcast channels.

By 9am, the public were taking to Twitter demanding their response, explanation, confirmation of whether they were liable, and if not, why not?

At that very same time, images and live streams were being shared that I will never forget.

Less than 10 miles away from me, children had been crying out for help, there was a distressed daughter looking for her elderly mother, and a man in his twenties with his mouth covered in soot from smoke inhalation.

I can understand the sense of urgency felt by the board, and also the consultant advising them.

They were right to acknowledge their involvement at this site, and also to demonstrate humility to those affected.

However, the decision to face Piers Morgan with no notable updates, prior to providing any form statement, I believe, was entirely the wrong one.

The statement didn’t help either.

The fact that the works completed "met all required building control, fire regulation and health & safety standards" is irrelevant. It plainly hasn’t done what it was designed to do.

The closing sentence described it being "inappropriate for us to speculate or comment further" – despite the marketing director appearing on Good Morning Britain hours before it was issued.

The response may have worked in ‘pre social media’ times, but the length of delay, lack of information and appetite to deflect, was something we as an industry, must avoid if this happens again in the future.

We can learn a thing or two from our journalists today, those who shared the details of what the survivors required and where to deliver them.

It is that humility in a time of crisis that should underpin a response to such a tragic event, not just for London, but the sector too.

Ollie Bailey-Pratt is a senior comms advisor

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