Murdoch, and Lessons Learned

Murdoch, and Lessons Learned

Now we know even a media giant can flub crisis communications. We have been asked a few times by friends and colleagues to grade Murdoch’s response. He gets a mixed grade.

A discussion of crisis communications and the lessons they hold for organizations. Including tips and wisdom, we hope.

First, we have been reminded — again — of the importance of having a current crisis communications plan in place. Here are some of the cautionary lessons from News Corp:

News Corp obfuscated and tried to cover up

Remember that Murdoch’s media empire was first accused in 2006 of hacking phones. In 2009, the company allegedly paid $1.6 million to settle legal cases that might have exposed evidence of wider phone hacking. This attempt to silence the story has only made it more appealing to reporters. Murdoch should have anticipated more scrutiny and acted decisively at least by 2009. Covering up or ignoring problems only compounds an organization’s troubles by inviting later intense scrutiny.

Murdoch is denying responsibility

Murdoch says he’s not responsible for the hacking, his employees are. Specifically, he placed blame on, “the people that I trusted to run it, and then maybe the people they trusted to run it.” Wrong answer. It was the quote played most often from Tuesday’s hearings, because it was news: Murdoch appears to be passing the buck, and this will only anger the public.

The Murdoch have damaged their credibility

On July 9th, Rupert Murdoch said his lieutenant, Rebekah Brooks, had his “full support.” Brooks was arrested on July 20th on suspicion of bribing police. On the 21st, ex-News Corp employees questioned the veracity of James Murdoch’s statements during his testimony. We’re not certain we can trust the Murdochs.

Here are things Rupert has done right:

He apologized

News Corp took out full page advertisements titled, “We are sorry.”

He expressed emotion and visited victim’s family

Murdoch said he was “shocked and appalled” when he learned that his employees had hacked into the phone of murder victim Millie Dowler. Murdoch met with Millie Dowler’s family. The family’s lawyer said Murdoch seemed “shaken and sincere.”

All of this goes to highlight the importance of having a crisis communications plan. It’s hard to make the right moves on the fly as the camera is in your face and the bright lights are turned on. Creating the plan forces an organization to think and plan ahead. Murdoch could have seen this coming and, if he planned ahead, would have handled this whole matter much better. (In fact in preparing a crisis communications plan, his organization probably would have looked ahead and seen, after what happened in 2006 and 2009, where this story could go – and it would have prompted decisive action before now.)

An anonymous source told Adweek on Friday: “I think it was strategic blunder for both News Corp. to wait so long to hire an outside agency … given how in the spotlight they are and how much they are a target of public criticism.” Guess what? We agree!