LEADER: Keep the insiders onside in a crisis

As MP Frank Field demonstrated so adeptly this week to Gordon Brown, one's internal critics often prove more influential than external ones.

Danny Rogers, Editor, <em>PRWeek</em>
Danny Rogers, Editor, PRWeek

From a communications strategy viewpoint, this is too often forgotten.

We only need to look at the two biggest corporate crises of the past six months to see how more emphasis on internal comms would have helped.

When the Northern Rock crisis struck last autumn, many of its staff looked as bewildered as its customers. The bank was pretty quick at pulling in an array of external advisers, but one source close to events reports that many senior managers were excluded from the crisis discussions, watching in bewilderment from across the office.

And, as Heathrow's Terminal 5 descended into chaos in March, customer difficulties were only exacerbated by handling staff who not only seemed confused, but distinctly demoralised by events.

In such situations staff who feel included in important decisions can make a massive contribution to reassuring customers and preventing crises from escalating.

And the dangerous flipside is that while senior management often do all they can to limit the information flow to journalists, the same hacks are forced to glean their information from more junior staff. Obviously, if these staff feel disenfranchised the media impression will be even more negative.

It may appear an unlikely message from a PR industry magazine, but some organisations could be tougher on the access provided to external advisers in a crisis, and a bit more inclusive of their own staff.

The key is getting the right balance of internal and external comms - a holistic PR strategy - and quality advisers will help their clients achieve this.

Gordon Brown's administration may be wise to learn too. Talented special advisers and PR strategists will prove valuable, but unless the PM gets his whole party - ministers, MPs and grassroots activists - conveying a single message, he is probably doomed.

Email: danny.rogers@haymarket.com  

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