We crisis public relations practitioners talk about the importance of Winning the Debate* by 1) having the winning argument; 2) setting the debate agenda – daily; 3) being accurate, open and honest.
Do they have the winning argument? Time will tell.
They set the agenda early by first closing the NOTW. Imagine what it would have been like had the much hated NOTW still been operating; every controversial story would have been picked over, every headline criticised, and every aggressive reporter’s activity discussed.
However closing NOTW alone was never going to be sufficient and it was clear that the Murdochs would have to make a headland statement – masterfully executed during the appearance before the parliamentary committee and the messages of integrity, transparency and humility. Were those messages too good to be true? Again, time will tell.
Nothing was going to stop the haters, but both events, set the news agenda and went along way to satiate public anger.
Which brings us to point three above, the importance of being accurate, open and honest. Remember, there is probably no organisation on earth with more critics than the Murdoch empire – the downside of being the largest employer of journalists, many of them tabloid. If James was honest in what he said to the committee about his knowledge of the affair, that line of investigation becomes a dry gully.
We can learn too from the Murdoch’s decision not to appear in the media, and refusal to answer ongoing media questions. The Objective here is to stop the debate*. Anybody who has been in the space the Ms are currently inhabiting will know the pressure they will have been under to answer more questions. I remember too clearly from my days on 60 Minutes how hard we would have tried to get either Murdoch on the program. They’ve resisted, wisely.
The one blight on this whole affair – the big ‘what-not-to-do’ – is the Murdochs should have cleaned this mess up years ago, when it first emerged. Cover-up or complacency?
It may sound far fetched at this stage of the cycle in this crisis, but the Murdochs can use this low point in their careers to improve their position, if they continue to play all their cards according to the crisis PR rules.
*The Three Crisis Objectives
- First, Win the Debate
- Do we have the winning argument?
- Can we set the debate agenda – daily?
- Are we being trustworthy: accurate, honest and transparent?
- Next, Stop the Debate
- From the beginning of a crisis, are we working towards ending it?
- Tacticians have to be able to judge when and how to turn off the tap, particularly media activity.
- Now, Work to Recover
- We start ‘working to recover’ from Day One.
- Our reputation depends on our recovery planning and skills.