From scandal to resignation – just how do you handle a crisis?

It was the story that continued to make waves long after it was even a story, so the news that Maria Miller has announced her resignation today didn’t really come as a surprise to anyone here at Skout HQ.

What did come as a surprise however was the media’s pursuit of the story long after the public continued to care. While Miller was certainly vilified on Twitter and other social networks, we bet if you asked the average person on the street who Maria Miller was and what was her crime, most would struggle to tell you.

But could she and the PM have handled it better? Yes absolutely. According to an article in today’s Guardian there were in fact eight things that she did wrong. While the majority of these were concerned with the way she managed the expense claim on her second home (including selling it mid-crisis for a whopping £1.2 million profit), two reasons stick out. The Guardian lists ‘not showing enough contrition’ and ‘trying to squash the story’ at number seven and five respectively.

Trying to squash the story refers to Miller’s combative and legalese approach to reporters reporting the story. The piece goes on to suggest that in fact Miller’s press aid went on the offensive in defending her actions and accused the media of revenge tactics against Miller’s role in the Leveson enquiry.

Not showing enough contrition or failing to recognise the extent of public anger (whether that’s real or imagined) refers to Miller’s 32-second apology in the House of Commons. Reporters believe that it was ‘bad mannered’ and ‘ungracious’ and failed to take into account public feeling on MP expenses.

While, as a B2B PR agency, we’re unlikely to be advising government ministers on how to handle their reputation anytime soon, both of the mistakes listed point to the number one rule of crisis management – be honest, open and transparent. Whether it’s a reputation that’s on the line, a customer service problem, or even a faulty product, honesty truly is the best policy.

If companies can openly and honestly explain the cause and result of the issue; back it up with a plan to change; provide proof of those changes occurring; and deliver this is a responsive and timely way – much of the public concern can be alleviated. Yes mistakes happen, but on the whole we’re a forgiving lot. We recognise that it’s impossible to get it right the whole time. But what is unforgivable in an era of openness is not responding or managing the crisis in an honest and transparent way.

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