Episode 10: Media relations after a critical workplace incident

 

In this podcast we are joined by Marie Mills from Mills Wilson as we discuss risk mitigation when it comes to media attention. Specifically, when this attention is following a critical workplace incident.

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Speaker 1 - Disclaimer

In this podcast, we have provided general advice only and not personal advice. In giving this advice we have not considered your personal circumstances.

 

Speaker 2

Welcome to Episode 10 of EBM Insights.

 

Today we are discussing risk mitigation when it comes to media attention.

 

What do I mean by? It's what a business could expect should they need to engage with a media relations consultant to support their business after a critical incident or situation has occurred in the workplace.

 

Joining me today is Marie Mills, the Managing Director of Mills Wilson, an integrated public relations service that celebrated their 30th anniversary last year.

 

Also, we welcome Pamela Stewart, National Manager Marketing and Development from EBM Insurance & Risk.

Welcome to you both.

 

Speaker 3

Good to be here.

 

Speaker 4

Thanks Sandy, great to be here.

 

Speaker 2

Before we get into the nitty gritty. Marie, can you give our listeners an overview of Mills Wilson.

 

Speaker 3

Absolutely, thanks very much, Sandy. Well as you said, we're a 30-year-old public relations firm and we work with businesses, organisations and individuals to build, nurture and importantly protect reputations.

 

And all that involves producing content, giving advice, developing compelling narratives, managing stakeholders, training, helping in negotiations, or all that it involves.

 

Speaker 2

And just for our listeners, we work very closely with Marie and her team on all of those requirements for EBM Insurance & Risk.

 

So today we are talking about crisis management after a critical incident has occurred in the workplace.

We define a critical incident as any event or series of events that is sudden, overwhelming, threatening or protracted. This may be an assault, threats, severe injury, death, fire order, bomb threat.

How do you define crisis management?

 

Speaker 3

Sandy, I think there are a number of different sides to a crisis. There's what’s happening operationally within the business, what's happening legally in terms of liability and all those very serious considerations, and then what's happening from a communications perspective, what are your clients and customers thinking and feeling?

 

How are they impacted - your regulators, your funders, your shareholders? If you're a listed company?

 

And of course, your own team and then reflecting on all of that is the media and of course that's a whole new world these days.

 

Speaker 2

It sure is.

 

Speaker 4

Thanks, Marie. Can you take us through what a business should or may need to do with regards to the media after a critical incident has occurred?

 

We’ll use the example of a staff member being seriously injured on site. First responders have attended the scene and provided support. Now words got out and the business is beginning to receive inquiries from the media. Can you take us through what the business may need to consider to respond to the situation?

 

Speaker 3

Well, of course it starts when the incident, as soon as the incident has occurred. And the big shift over the last number of years is of course social media and the readiness of communication.

 

So, whereas in many years gone by you might have had time to respond from a communications perspective, you don't have the luxury of that time anymore.

 

Anybody with a mobile phone is a publisher.

 

And I think the general community is much more attuned to media attention.

 

I'm sure we've all been astounded at times when a mobile phone vision turns up on the nightly news and you think what possessed somebody to film that and then to send it to a media organisation.

 

One thinks why didn't they send that to the police on this occasion? Perhaps they also did that, but that's the situation that we’re in, when something happens in your organisation, is that we must immediately expect that it’s going to reach either social media or traditional media in very fast time.

 

So, the first thing that I think a business needs to do is be prepared for that. The second thing is to think about your hierarchy of people that you need to talk to, and the media may not be first on the list.

 

It may be that you need to speak to your own team, your own wider team. You need to speak to your regulators.

You need to speak to perhaps key customers key stakeholders, and in parallel or even after those, you then might need to speak to the media.

 

In order to speak to the media you need to know your truth, you need to know what you are certain about, what you don't yet know, and how you're going to find out what you don't know, what that process might be, and to make sure that you only speak your truth, that you don't speculate, that you don't imagine, suppose, and worst of all, assume.

 

Speaker 4

Excellent, so you've touched on social media as being a critical component. When you think about crisis communication, what sort of other aspects should we be thinking about in terms of how it forms part of the business response plan?

 

Speaker 3

Well, social media can work for you. It can be a really immensely powerful tool and the immediacy of it is wonderful, so I would advise anybody to not only listen to social media in times of crisis but to think how they might turn it to their advantage and how they might speak to their key audiences via social media.

 

What we all know about social media is that it's a hungry beast, so you can't leave it alone. You need to make sure that you are feeding it, that you're giving good information, that you're letting your customers and your other stakeholders know what is happening. What you know for certain is happening, and make sure that you're also responding to people who are themselves publishing on social media so it can be a very big part of your crisis management, but it does need very experienced and skilful management.

 

Speaker 2

Following on from that Marie, would you recommend that more businesses should have some sort of crisis management plan in place.

 

Speaker 3

I think one of the things that we've learned over many years, is that you can have the kind of crisis plan that's very detailed, very theoretical, and tends to sit on the shelf and do absolutely nothing.

 

Or, you can have a very practical integrated plan, because as much as you should plan operationally and perhaps in a legal sense for a crisis, make sure you've got good insurance in place. You should also plan from a communications and stakeholder engagement point of view but, keep it practical, keep it integrated.

 

Speaker 2

Yeah, and I would assume you would need in that time of crisis, a crisis management team to come together from the organisation and you would have not just members of marketing and comms, it would be operations, would be different sectors of the business would be aware to come together at that time.

 

Speaker 4

Also, I would say making sure you know who your key spokespeople will be when that situation rises, you're not scrambling to figure out who that identified person is.

 

Speaker 2

And I'd say having those key speakers are appropriately trained as well and refresher courses etc.

 

Speaker 3

Yeah, the training is really interesting because it's difficult for people to speak about.

 

I, I think the example you used was an injury or God forbid, a fatal incident that might happen on site for a company and particularly when it might be somebody that they've worked with so that's a really hard thing for anybody to do, and if you don't practise that coming out of your mouth it can really catch you short.

 

Speaker 2

I was wondering if you could take us through an example of a real-life situation where this has occurred?

 

Speaker 3

There are a few that come to mind, some that we've managed, others that have made headline news.

 

Unfortunately, and for all the wrong reasons, I, I think the example that most businesses dread is a serious injury or death on site and so that's the one that comes to mind most vividly and the case I'm thinking of, it looked like it was a case of simply human error. Tragically human error.

 

But of course, part of the life cycle of a crisis is that great need to find somebody to blame.

 

Yes, and certainly that gets played out in the media. How these stories play out is often quite predictable. What happened? Who has the eyewitness account? Or better still? Who has vision? How could this have happened? Who's responsible, how’s the family reacting, how they're coping? They're devastated.

 

Of course, but are they angry? Would they be willing to speak? Like what's the company's track-record in safety training. Human resource management. Do regulations need to be tightened? What's the government going to do to ensure that this never happens again and who will pay? Of course, the dreaded C word - compensation.

So, it was obviously a very difficult situation, particularly when it looked like it was human error.

 

You know that the investigations are going to start immediately, but you don't want to hide behind that or look like you're hiding behind the idea that you can't speak because an investigation is underway. You don't want to blame someone who’s just tragically died.

 

You don't want to sound unreasonably defensive and you don't want to take blame for something that wasn't an error on your part, so in the end the communications advice was reasonably simple. First of all, speak to the right people first and that's usually the family and the colleagues of the person who has tragically died or been seriously injured. And the second really important piece with advice is to say what you mean and mean what you say, and that might mean a very human response.

 

This has been a terrible day. We are all devastated. Investigations are underway. And no, it's not appropriate to speculate. But we do know that our colleague who has died was very experienced, was well trained and most importantly was a very valued member of our team.

 

We do invest in safety in training and we do mean it when we say that our people are our highest priority and so on.

 

So, it's a matter of being truthful, authentic and human. When something like that occurs now, we were fortunate in that case that all that was true. If a company has been skimping on the maintenance of equipment or has been skimping on training, or perhaps leaves apprentices unsupervised then of course, that's a very different matter, so we were fortunate in this case that it was a good company and there had simply been a tragic accident.

 

But the bottom line is to have your relationships with communication partners in place before a crisis hits, manage your reputation so that the bucket of goodwill is full when a crisis strikes and be prepared to take good advice when it's given in the moment and to act quickly. And that means that when a crisis or an issue does rise, one of your first phone calls should be to your communications partners. They can really make your life a whole lot easier and free up your time to deal with even more important matters.

 

Speaker 2

Thanks Marie, that's a great example, thank you.

 

Thankyou Marie for joining Pamela and myself for this podcast today. For more information on the services Mills Wilson provide, please go to millswilson.com.au and a reminder that our entire podcast series is available on Spotify plus we have links to each episode on ebm.com.au Thank you.

 

[End]

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