The Importance of Effective Crisis Communications

Blog Post NHSPost Office

Apart from a short statement offering to hand back her CBE in the wake of the drama about the Post Office scandal, former chief executive Paula Vennells has kept a very low profile in recent years.

Since the 2019 court victory by 555 postmasters against the Post Office, she has been conspicuous by her absence from the limelight.

Her strategy of dealing with her own personal crisis was, arguably, not to have one and hope she’ll be left alone.

By contrast, Baroness Mone decided to go all guns blazing when attacked over her husband’s company, PPE Medro, making £60m profit from defective Personal Protective Equipment.  This was a significant U-turn after previously claiming to have had no involvement and threatening to sue anyone who suggested otherwise.

Out came a glossy, over-long promotional video, in which she attempted to take control of the narrative, and an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.  In short, her reported defence was that lying is not a crime and everyone in government knew what she was doing.

Few would claim that either strategy has been a success.  So, what should you do when faced with a crisis?

Firstly, take a step back and consider what you want to achieve through your communications and the process to getting there.

Mostly, people will want to protect their company or personal brand.  Putting your side of the story and conveying the action you are taking are important but so too is the way you do it.

If you care what people think of you, the Vennells approach is a non-starter.  By refusing to communicate, you look as though you have something to hide and leave a vacuum for people to fill by saying what they like, within the law.  Although making false statements is libellous, there can be many correct statements that are damaging and fair comment is also acceptable.

Despite handing back her CBE, the public opinion of Vennells is, arguably, now so low that even if she is exonerated by a public enquiry, her personal brand and that of the Post Office may never recover.

So, why did Mone’s strategy fail so spectacularly?  It all comes back to how you convey your message.

In a crisis, two elements are vital – credibility and empathy.  You must make people believe you are a decent person doing the right thing, or at least putting right any wrongs. In short, an interview is about getting people to like you.