The conventional wisdom in a reputational
crisis that threatens an organization or brand is to be contrite, be
truthful, and be swift. One further consideration that’s not often talked about:
be complete. Hold nothing back.
With the possible exception of that final
consideration, Rupert Murdoch’s communication team appears to be doing all that
they should to respond to rightly justified howls of indignation and cries for
the dismemberment of News International. They’ve published full-page newspaper
advertisements proclaiming their failures and remorse. They’ve accepted the
resignations of two high-ranking officials, including the editor of the Wall
Street Journal. They’ve even shuttered the financial powerhouse tabloid at the
center of it all, News of the World.
But with the resignation of Sir Paul
Stephenson, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, and the arrest of
News International executive Rebekah Brooks, this melodrama has become more the
political story than a business story. What’s been exposed here is the
overly-cozy relationship between senior political figures, the metropolitan
police, and the tabloid press in London.
The usual forms of remorse won’t
work here. Perhaps News International’s chief operating officer, Chase Carey,
will be able to protect his boss, James Murdoch. If the noose begins to tighten
around the principals at 10 Downing Street, however, all bets are off. The loss
of BskyB may not be the last body blow to a once-proud media empire. An FBI
investigation into accusations of phone-hacking in the United States may well
prove to be the Murdochs undoing.
Those of us who teach Corporate
Communication at the graduate level like to point out that a successful
communication program consists of three elements: sound policies in the public
interest, competent execution, and sincere communication. Note that
communication comes third in that list. Absent sound policies in the public
interest, no amount of explaining or apologizing will help.