Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand and your web site

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand are at the centre of a perfect storm – it’s got everything; sex, money, jealousy, a grandfather, an attractive young woman, an iconic corporation, stardom, – the list goes on. However, it’s a story that could have been knocked on the head within hours, rather than allowing it to drag on for almost two weeks.

It was a stupid prank, a juvenile stunt and an indication of weakening editorial standards within the BBC. But while the world is suffering recession, people are being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the USA is about to select the most powerful man in the world, two so-called “comedians” have dominated the news agenda in the UK for days on end. Why?

The reason is simple; a complete mis-handling of the crisis by the BBC top brass. They have dithered, delayed and danced around the issue, rather than being decisive. Research on crisis communications has shown consistently that what we want is immediate, decisive action that shows the bosses understand our perspective. When a company is in the doo-doo we expect the boss to act immediately. We expect the boss to see it from our perspective – not the company’s. We expect the communication to be consistent and swift.

What have the BBC given us? Bosses that remained silent for over 10 days, bosses that disagreed with each other in public and bosses that were telling us about their internal perspective. Indeed, it’s taken almost a fortnight for the Director General to say a word – that’s a resignation offence in itself. In other words, the BBC that reports week-in, week-out on the crises of other companies has shown it does not even understand the principles of crisis communications itself. That’s the real issue here – how inept the top brass at the BBC have revealed themselves to be. They have allowed a rather silly and embarrassing event to escalate into a full-scale disaster for the organisation. People wonder why we are spending money on “talent” like Jonathan Ross, but I wonder why we are spending money on such poor management and a clear lack of leadership.

So what has this all to do with your company and your web site? Reputation. Your business WILL face a disaster or a serious problem that will affect your reputation. It is not “if” disaster will strike your business, but “when”. At some stage in your business, the proverbial will hit the fan; it’s as sure as tax.

How you handle that problem will determine whether or not your business survives. Follow the BBC way and you could be in trouble. Follow the advice from crisis communications experts and you’ll be OK. So here’s what to do.

When a crisis hits your business IMMEDIATELY put a front-page message on your web site. In that message the FIRST thing you say is how you PERSONALLY feel about the situation – show your emotional reaction. Next, say what action you are taking to deal with the issue and prevent it from happening again. Then show your compassion for the people affected by the problem. Finally, demonstrate the energy you are committing to the situation. It’s an easy-to-remember notice you need to place on your web site – F.A.C.E. – Feelings, Action, Compassion, Energy. All of which have been distinctly lacking by the BBC in the past two weeks.

And if you feel this won’t work you might recall the British Midlands air crash in 1989 when the company’s response was “text book” – leading to the survival of the airline and its continued success in spite of the fact that the company was responsible for 47 deaths. But the way Townsend Thoreson handled the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster in 1987 saw the company fold – their handling of the situation just compounded the disaster. There are dozens of other examples and the lessons are clear – follow the FACE method and your business will survive and your reputation may well increase. Nowadays, though, you need to act even faster – your web site MUST respond to the problems within MINUTES of you knowing about them.

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