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Coronavirus: who is managing your crisis messaging?

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Posted by Daniel Jennings on 14 April 2020

Daniel Jennings Partner

As if we needed proof that bad news travels faster than good, we hear more and more reports of bad message management which is causing reputational harm to a number of organisations during the coronavirus crisis.

The latest incident is from a body which does not really have to manage its reputation, namely the Passport Office. Their blunder is good illustration of an error many businesses are making.

On Tuesday 7 April, staff were reportedly told by a Home Office scientific adviser that 80% of people would eventually get Covid-19 and we cannot hide away from it forever.  That was in the context of staff being asked to go back to work following the bank holiday weekend.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the science behind that statement, the messaging is awful.  This is an example of a lack of emotional intelligence demonstrated by too many businesses when conveying a message either to staff or customers. 

Sometimes that lack of emotional intelligence can be an institutional failure but, more usually, it is a failure of the person, or people, handling the messaging. They are responsible for making sure the message is clear and understood; as well as ensuring that those communicating the message are on side.  Poor message handling internally can cause great anxiety for employees; but could be even more devastating for the business’ long-term reputation if such a message gets out to the outside world.

In my experience, one of the key triggers for defamation claims is an individual overstepping the mark by either expressing their own opinion, putting their own spin on a message, or perhaps in this case simply failing to understand the wider impact of the message being communicated.

It is critical to have a coherent communications strategy and part of that strategy is being very clear on who communicates what message, when, and how.

If this crisis is teaching businesses anything, it must surely be the importance of having reputation management and crisis management plans in place and being able to ensure their smooth implementation by having staff trained to communicate them effectively.

About the author

Daniel advises clients on all aspects of commercial litigation and dispute resolution.

Daniel Jennings

Daniel advises clients on all aspects of commercial litigation and dispute resolution.

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