Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
Every crisis communications strategy has to start with an end game in mind. But watching the train wreck that was Cardinal George Pell’s Royal Commission testimony I just couldn’t work out what he was trying to achieve.
Pell is a very senior executive in a large and powerful multi-national organisation, otherwise known as the Catholic Church. He has his career and brand to protect.
But the way he handled it trashed his brand and his career.
And if the Church was listed its share price would be in free fall right now. So there are some great lessons on what not to do when you’re the public face of a crisis.
Protecting the public or the environment is usually the avowed end game of any crisis management strategy.
But the spokesperson typically has three real concerns that drive the communications strategy:
1. How can I safeguard my job and career path?
2. How do I minimise brand damage?
3. How do I minimise loss?
From where I stand, Pell’s arrogant approach has cost him all three.
His career must be over. His boss isn't going to risk a public outcry by extending his contract when he turns 75 and has to submit his resignation. And that’s June 8, less than 90 days away.
Rather than protecting the brand, Pell’s behaviour has amplified the damage. His arrogance, lack of empathy, refusal to cooperate and barely credible commentary couldn’t have been scripted to do more damage.
So that leaves minimising loss which is another fail. The outrage Pell created must flow through to a drop in donations as well as raise the stakes in compensation discussions. So just what was he playing at because it certainly wasn’t helping the victims.
So here's my top three takeouts for any executive or organisation wanting to avoid a Pell style train wreck.
1. Drop the ego. Let your end game dictate your communication strategy.
2. Apologise early and often. An apology is not an admission of guilt, it’s not even evidence in most cases, but it is the one thing that allows you to be heard.
3. Ensure your actions support your claims. It’s always best to cooperate with the authorities rather than attempt to be above the law. If your organisation is an innocent victim working to get to the root of the problem is the most powerful proof point you can deliver.
Love to hear your thoughts, and do contact me here if you’d like more information on how you can make sure your senior spokespeople avoid a share price trashing, brand destroying, Pell-style train wreck.