Camila Batmanghelidjh and Sarah Montague, crisis management, media training, media skills

Camila Batmanghelidjh and crisis management – managing the media


Let me say first that I know nothing about Kids Company, the charity run by Camila Batmanghelidjh in London that closed down on Wednesday. I’m not a specialist, there appear to be investigations ongoing from the police, for all sorts of reasons commenting would be a bad idea.

What’s clear, though, is that she’s been very loud in the media. And in terms of crisis management I’m not certain this was a wise decision – although it’s better than hiding yourself away and refusing to comment at all.

I’ve prepped a few people for crisis management before now, and had I been advising Batmanghelidjh here are some thoughts I’d have offered.

  • Try not to look or sound defensive. Journalists are going to ask questions on behalf of the viewers and it’s never personal. If there’s been a crisis, your first concern is with those affected. Looking contrite, whether you feel it or not, is an appropriate reaction when your organisation has just been closed down, however unjustifiable you might feel it was.
  • Try not to accuse the media of being irresponsible. No matter how strongly you feel that a report has been put together for the media’s benefit, don’t rise to it. It will sound to many listeners and viewers as if you are blaming everyone else for your misfortune and lashing out.
  • Don’t comment on anything subject to an inquiry. If the police are checking something, bow to their pre-eminence in the case. “I’d love to help but there’s a police inquiry going on, which we welcome and with which we will co-operate – the important thing is to find out what’s actually gone on and to help the kids who were in our care” is a summary of the only appropriate response, even if you don’t use those exact words.
  • Have some short answers prepared to a number of obvious questions. The temptation is to answer as fully as you can but in print/online journalists will select parts of your comment – they have little choice – and in broadcast settings they will have to keep you to time. Trying to put long answers leaves you saying “let me finish” and “you’re not letting me answer the question” – which can sound defensive and ill-prepared. Have some shorter answers ready and you can stay in control.
  • Stay calm and don’t speak too quickly. If you sound panicked, no matter how convinced you are of your case, listeners and viewers will not trust you and you don’t want to prejudice opinion.
  • Get advice on the best interviews to do. Not hiding when things get difficult is admirable, too many businesspeople and others retreat into their shells when the going is tough; however, getting saturation coverage can look like an orchestrated PR exercise. Have a statement ready for the interviews you don’t do and get advice on those that you should.

I’ve helped companies with crisis management – do you need a crisis session? Click here to drop me an email and we’ll talk.

Image from Flickr:NHS Confederation, showing Camila Batmanghelidjh on stage with Sarah Montague

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