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How to react in a crisis

Last week saw not one, but two PR disasters that would have been easily alleviated by a considered PR strategy.


Firstly, Hope & Glory festival has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. What promised to be the best bands, combined with a decadent Victoriana carnival atmosphere, wicked fun and a heavy dose of outrageous sideshows, turned out to be a disaster.


It all started with a tweet from the Happy Mondays’ Rowetta, urging fans not to attend the second day of the festival, as it had been cancelled. This, accompanied with a conflicting statement in the Liverpool Echo advising that the festival was still going ahead, left attendees confused. When the event organisers did tweet, simply stating ‘no festival today’, it was clear it was time to go home.


No official statement was given by the festival organisers for more than 24 hours, and when it was released, it provided no answers, only finger pointing, aggravating the situation further.


Only a few days later, there was mass confusion surrounding Botswana's Isaac Makwala, who was ruled out of the 200m heats and 400m final at the World Championships in London, despite insisting he was fit.


Organisers, the IAAF, declared Makwala had norovirus and he was banned from the race, and the entire stadium. The BBC waited hours for an official statement, without avail, allowing rumours and allegations to circulate.


In situations like this, it is of paramount importance that communication to the public and the media are handled by experienced PR professionals. Undoubtedly, PR agencies across Manchester, and in fact the globe, have been discussing how they would have handled the situations, but being the nice and helpful people that we are, we will share our thoughts on how to correctly manage and execute crisis comms. Hope & Glory, IAAF, are you listening?...


1.      As soon as an issue arises, take control of the message and make sure it’s clear across all platforms. For Hope & Glory, the first communication should have come from the show’s organisers, not Rowetta. With Twitter allowing attendees to get their side of the story out instantly, it’s important you provide a clear, concise statement that informs the public of the situation. The IAAF failed to inform Makwala of whether he would be able to run, with the public speculating reasons why on Twitter. It is always beneficial for a brand’s public perception to address a problem at the outset, rather than letting the public make their own truth

2.      If you’re going to engage on Twitter, make sure your messaging is correct, and the tone appropriate. Hope & Glory’s attempts at engaging with its visitors were shambolic, aggressive, and defensive, alienating themselves further. To make matters worse, the bio of the account was changed to ‘TWITTER - The place where the truth doesn't matter, bullying is de rigeur and decent people get destroyed’. Apparently, the organiser of Hope & Glory, Lee O’Hanlon, didn’t check social media for the 48 hours surrounding the festival, leaving it to a junior team member, meaning he had no sight of his customers’ feedback, both big PR no-nos.

3.      When a company publicly announces that a formal statement will be released at noon, the company needs to make sure it releases it at noon. Having your audience waiting a further fifteen minutes (on top of the original 24-hour delay) will only aggravate the situation further

4.      Do not pass the blame. Your statement shouldn’t pass the blame onto other parties, rather acknowledge the issue and provide a concise response. If you have previously publicly announced you are in control of an event, denying any responsibility when a problem arises will further anger any stakeholders and will damage your public perception even more

5.      Don’t cry over stolen milk. In the official statement from Hope & Glory, the fact that the organisers’ milk and food were stolen was laboured more than the actual issue, that thousands of people were out of pocket. Trying to garner sympathy from the public because someone stole your pint of milk means nothing when they’ve lost hundreds of pounds. It’s imperative that you understand your stakeholders, and the wider issues

6.      Hire a PR agency experienced in crisis comms. It is worth every penny when serious situations arise. An agency will handle social media, manage the media, produce a holding statement and craft a full statement to be released to the public, meaning you can respond with a controlled strategy that is consistent throughout


It’s safe to say that Hope & Glory will go down in history for all the wrong reasons with Makwala’s career almost put on hold due a communication breakdown. Already dire situations were handled appallingly, magnifying the damage already caused. The fact that Makwala was eventually allowed to compete, albeit on his own, highlights the incorrect steps the IAAF took in communicating to the athletes, the media and the public and the following response from the public shows how important having a crisis comms strategy is.


If you think your company would benefit from crisis comms, now or in the future, contact us for more information.



Tagged with: crisis management PR, Manchester PR Agency, PR campaign essential, PR companies in Manchester, Public Relations North West