By Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
It had all the makings of a truly salacious scandal – underage teens smoking bongs and snorting white powder during online lessons – but Moriah College has successfully killed the story before it ever took off. Google it and there are just four hits, a major reputational reprieve.
In contrast, search for Shore and the Triwizard Shorenament and you’ll hit the motherload because the story played out very publicly for more than a week.
In case you missed it, last week students at Moriah College filmed classmates carrying out nefarious activities during a Jewish Studies class, reportedly with the username Hitler. It was filmed, shared on socials, and broadcast on the evening news.
Shore’s crisis in December 2020 caused even more outrage: students were set charming challenges including spitting on a homeless man, assaulting strangers and various sexual shenanigans. You can read the whole list here.
We’ve trained hundreds of schools in how to handle a reputation destroying crisis, which is sadly much more common than you’d think. Not just prosecuting parents for being behind with fees, but bullying, sexual misconduct and tragically the deaths of students. In one excruciating session at an exclusive girls school the scenario involved a Rainbow Sex Party – which I had to google to prepare for the session. I wouldn’t recommend it, it is definitely NSFW and can’t be unseen, but if you really must.
Reading the media statements from the Principals, it’s safe to assume both schools were prepped and had crisis plans in place. So why did the Shorenament go viral for weeks while Moriah’s Powdergate died out before the local coke dealers could even replenish their supplies?
Quite simply, Moriah put a lid on it. There was one statement, and judging by the media coverage, some targeted follow-up interviews to friendly press by a trained Spokesperson. And this is the critical factor: nothing to give it oxygen. The parents, students, teachers, the perpetrators and everyone connected with the school kept quiet.
In contrast parents at Shore just couldn’t resist the urge to join in.
Even the first media reports quoted parents claiming it was a set up – devised by envious students at another school – and, simultaneously, that other schools were planning similar scavenger hunts so Shore should not be singled out.
Then just as the crisis faded from the headlines, #ProudShoreMums – on Facebook, twitter and Instagram – was set up to show support for students. Of course it was quickly hijacked by an outraged but witty public. This breathed fresh life into the crisis and gave the media something to report on for another week.
So what’s the takeout?
Refer all enquiries to a designated (and trained) Spokesperson. Ask all your staff and stakeholders to refrain from comment and direct any calls they get to the designated Spokesperson. Make sure the responses are factual – dry and dull if possible – and always call out and close down speculation.
You might also like to read
Handling the AFL’s D*ck Pic Crisis
How Byron Burgers killed a £100m brand
Toobin’s Zoom Malfunction
Want to be confident in your team’s crisis skills? Email us about options for exercising your spokespeople or help getting your Leadership Team to focus and engage in crisis planning.