Practicing crisis communication since 2001 for over 10 years now, I know that sometimes you feel alone, as most of the situations are confidential and you can talk about them with a very limited number of people. In such a lonely place, in the middle of a crisis, I messaged Amanda and asked for an hour of her time. It was a very efficient hour.
For more than 20 years, Amanda Coleman worked on the inside with a range of police (Greater Manchester Police) and civic leaders and helped them respond to some of the UK’s biggest crisis incidents and sustained reputational attacks. She is the author of Crisis Communication Strategies, a book that brings together some of that knowledge and experience to provide a starting point for people developing or revising crisis communication plans.
So, when the crisis with the Champions League happened, police being involved, I asked her to write together some ideas down, what we have both learned and perhaps share some insight with PR people in Romania.
The unfolding of a crisis
On the 28th of May Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid kicked off following a 35-minute delay after police tried to hold off people trying to force their way into the Stade de France with the trouble having stopped before halftime.
Even then, the stadium announcement said that the kick off was being delayed "due to the late arrival of fans". “People attempted to penetrat
e the stadium. They forced their way through the first filter. The screening at the Stade de France is watertight,” French police said in a statement. Dozens of individuals forced their way into the stadium premises and others outside, including children, were tear-gassed by riot police.
Former England international and television pundit Gary Lineker tweeted: “Finding it impossible to get in the ground. This appears to be very dangerous. Absolute carnage.”
Spain's secretary of state for Sport Jose Manuel Franco said: “I waited an hour 100 meters
from the stadium.” “The rapid intervention of the police allowed a return to calm and for troublemakers to be evacuated away from the entrance,” the France police statement said, mentioning also the fact that Liverpool fans came with fake tickets, and they are to blame.
The strategy to blame the British fans
Amanda Coleman: I would like to think that this was an error that was compounded by other organisations rather than being a deliberate and determined effort to lay the blame firmly at the British supporter’s door. In developing communication in these circumstances, it is vital to focus only on what is known 100 per cent and not to try and fill in the gaps or apportion blame. As we saw with the coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy. It has taken many years to tackle the way blame was discussed in the initial communication. I would have hoped that organizations would have learnt from this terrible situation and ensured that blame is not a focus of their communication.
Ana-Maria Diceanu: It is clear for me that each party involved had a separate crisis cell, which in this situation was a failure. All affected stakeholders had its own crisis strategy and approach, which is not ok taken into consideration the facts. If the crisis would have been seen as one problem for all, then all should have been at the same table and decide on messages and strategy. Separately they decided to blame each other, loosing from their crisis management approach the main stakeholder: the people. For me it is strange that this was not discussed in advance. My recommendation to all companies is to always have a PR person at the table when drafting business strategies, launching products, organizing events. A PR person, with crisis experience, can put on the table scenarios, and this example shows that you need scenarios because you never know when and how a crisis will hit. PR people are more and more valuable for businesses these days, and the difficult years that past with the health crisis and now the economic crisis at the door have shown how PR can help a business. Regardless of the good news you bring to stakeholder, always have a PR person close. Reputation and trust are so easy to lose these days. Look at the reactions of UEFA sponsors after the crisis in Paris.
Read the entire article here