Tag Archives: crisis

Katie Hopkins: publicity master?

This week, a group of students at Brunel University first stood up and turned their backs on, then walked out on former candidate on “The Apprentice” and now columnist Katy Hopkins.

Hopkins has built herself quite a reputation. She is right wing and has made numerous controversial comments about refugees, women, overweight people…I could go on. She behaved pretty badly during “The Apprentice”, trying to plot the downfall of a couple of the candidates. And failing.

She is also a master at publicising herself and making a great deal out of what appears simply to be a particular outlook on life.

If I were here I’d be thanking those students at the moment. Look at what it’s done for her. She would have been unlikely to get into the Guardian and the Independent without their actions, these papers are not her spiritual home. She would also not have had the ammunition to launch an attack on universities and freedom of speech in her Daily Mail column, in which she has some justification for accusing the students of having closed minds and not researching other speakers with the same diligence. There’s an important lesson about handing people the moral high ground in there.

How do you solve a problem like Katie

It’s an old difficulty: how do you efficiently protest against someone without drawing attention to their views? There are a number of ways, and the students in this instance blew most of them.

First, you ignore the speaker. Just don’t invite them to speak and they won’t force themselves on you.

Second, if your uni or other organisation has invited them to speak and you object, don’t go. An empty or poorly-attended hall is not a news story.

Third, if you do turn up and want to object, give the speaker a chance to make his or her point first. Whatever objections you have, walking out before he or she has spoken is always going to look unreasonable. Putting a film of it on YouTube is going to hit the papers – Hopkins can probably charge a larger fee as a result of the last couple of days’ notoriety.

What Katie should do next

On the other hand, you might be the Katie figure rather than the listener in this case. If I were advising her or someone like her, I’d suggest:

  • Turn up to anything to which you’re invited and get a friendly colleague along with a camcorder, DSLR, phone with good video recording or something like that. Get any protest on disk.
  • Stay calm and be reasonable. Don’t allow yourself to look flustered. It’s your right to express an opinion in a democracy and the fact that I wouldn’t vote for you/buy your newspaper/whatever takes nothing away from that right.
  • If there’s a walkout, make it a bigger news story than it is – as indeed Hopkins appears to have done. Wait and see whether someone uploads their own footage for sharing, and use the copy you’ve made only if they fail to do so – so it doesn’t look like self-publicity.

I hold no brief for Katy Hopkins. The audience, however, has handed her an incredible win. I suspect this wasn’t their intention.

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What to do when someone publishes something wrong

Last week I published a wrong fact on a website for which I’m responsible. I won’t repeat the inaccuracy but it was an offhand comment based on an entirely wrong assumption about someone’s work. It was part of the intro rather than the substance of the story, which is no excuse but that’s pretty much how it slipped through.

So, if someone does something like this to you, what do you do? Here are some guidelines, not to make you feel better (shouting might do that) but to get to a good resolution (which shouting probably won’t).

  • Accept that a human being made a mistake. You don’t know them but there is every chance they’ll be as concerned at their error as you were. Approach them in this spirit rather than with the aim of “taking them down”.
  • Try to think through what you want from the situation. An apology should be forthcoming but more importantly you want every online source referring to the wrong suggestion taken down or amended as swiftly as possible. A clarification or retraction should also follow.
  • If you have a PR company or other intermediary, use them. You might well be furious, and this might be perfectly understandable but heated and sweary emails or calls are going to make people reluctant to deal with you, no matter whether they ought to or not.
  • If you approach the people making the error by email, definitely don’t swear. It’s a sure fire way of ending up in their spam bucket and this might delay any constructive response.
  • Remember it’s an error in a piece of writing and not a personal attack. The journalist will know they’ve done something wrong and although it may be tempting to rub their nose in it, it will rarely help. Also the chances are that if it’s a professional journalist they’ll have a means of dealing with what happens when we goof – it’s an occupational hazard, we do know mistakes will creep in. Ask about their usual procedure and see whether it will work for you.

I’d be interested to hear of approaches that have worked to salvage a situation – or approaches that haven’t worked – as comments.

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What to tell the press when you’re fired

Occasionally people face the media and it’s apparent that their last job didn’t go well. Football managers are routinely announced as “fired” all the time; businesspeople have to face it too. They then carry on and launch something else – but what should you say if you’re in that position and a journalist asks you about your previous job?

Here’s where I believe Jeremy Clarkson has got it right. On the BBC this morning, he described his dismissal (actually the non-renewal of his contract) as “his own silly fault”. You can read about it here.

I don’t know Mr. Clarkson and I’ve expressed my opinion on his sacking before. This time, though, he’s behaved in the only way possible to emerge with any dignity or – crucially – employability.

A confession

Here’s a bit of a confession. I don’t like being fired. It’s happened before and every freelancer faces the prospect of a client finding someone cheaper. Competition for content creation from people based in lower-funded economies can be fierce.

However, when someone makes that decision I always withdraw politely as they may need me again, and I always say something pleasant about them on social media.

To do the opposite is to complain bitterly in public. I’m no cricket buff but have a look at this article by Kevin Pietersen, who basically accuses everybody he spoke to of dishonesty. You can think this, by all means; in sport it probably does no harm to vent a little as the audience doesn’t expect the same professionalism as they might in business. Do Google the story, there’s been acres of coverage, which is the other thing that happens when someone takes an aggressive stance. Journalists won’t leave it alone. Once again, this is probably acceptable to sportspeople who are expected to be massively skilled at their game but not necessarily polished presenters.

In business it’s different. Your communications are important and you have to make future employers look forward to working with you. Your social and Internet footprint will mean any complaints you’ve aired in the past will be easy to find. If there’s a suspicion you’ll turn around and trash your previous employer, or client, you’ll find it more difficult to find the next one.

So no matter how you feel, be gracious. Use bridging phrases when asked what you think about previous bosses: “Obviously we didn’t share a vision of how the company should go forward, and I wish her every success. What I’m focused on now is…”

But don’t be defensive or overly critical. It’s great for the journalist, we love a row, but not so good for your prospects or reputation. This time, Clarkson has manifestly got it right. Whatever he feels, he’s said it was his fault and that really leaves journalists nowhere else to go.

How do you manage a crisis?

The incidents in Corfu currently hitting Thomas Cook so hard are beyond the remit of a media tips blog, they’re too serious. Irreparable damage has probably been done to the company’s reputation and it would be trite to try to address it with a glib blog on media tips.

However, it’s worth looking at what companies in general can do to manage a crisis when one arises. There’s actually quite a lot, and here are some ideas.

Crisis management

  • First, go into lockdown without appearing to do so. Only a handful of people in your business should be speaking to the press anyway; when there’s a crisis, make doubly sure all the staff are aware of this but have a statement on your website – have them refer journalists to this rather than offer them “no comment”, which never works.
  • Second, don’t dodge the issue. Your starting point is that something bad has happened and you’re determined to find what went wrong. If you can’t comment while your internal inquiry is going on, say so but stress that your thoughts are with whoever has had the rough end of the problem.
  • Third, and this is vital, empathise. The people listening to you will be very much in sympathy with anyone who’s been wronged. I heard of a case, years ago, that could be apocryphal but it makes the point. A 90-year-old woman had lung cancer and was suing a tobacco company. The lawyers at the tobacco company found she’d worked with asbestos in the 1950s and there was a perfectly reasonable case to suggest that in this instance tobacco wasn’t to blame. They suggested not only refusing her compensation but suing for defamation, and they’d have had a chance of winning. The PR department stepped in and pointed out that no matter who was factually right and wrong, the big tobacco company suing the little old lady was never going to play well, so they backed down immediately and paid compensation regardless.

I’m not saying the Thomas Cook incident is similar to that of the woman in the tobacco company case. Every case is different. However, its apparent view – that the family has been compensated adequately with a payout one tenth the size of that which the company itself received – is worthy of comparison because it’s a big company being perceived as pushing the little people around.

No matter whose fault something is, no matter how you might feel your company has been wronged, it’s worth taking a little time out to empathise with the other people. Communicate this at least, and you might get to limit some of the damage that might otherwise happen.

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