Tag Archives: media

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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