Five things we learned from the Matt Hancock Media Frenzy.
June 29, 2021

Five things we learned from the Matt Hancock Media Frenzy.

Five things we learned from the Matt Hancock media frenzy.

Here we go again, former health secretary Matt Hancock fell on his sword on Saturday.  Confessional videos from government ministers, business leaders and other prominent people who have done something wrong and have been forced from office are now a regular occurrence.

So, what can those working in public relations and corporate communications learn from the Matt Hancock incident?  Here are five key takeaways.

  1. If you’re going to resign – or take any action, for that matter – do it quickly.

As the media world accelerates, the time in which organisations have to respond to a crisis gets shorter.  Hancock resigned relatively quickly but it would have been better for him and the government if he’d done so immediately after the Sun went public with its story.

As it was, Number 10 seemed to be backing him one minute and then had to do a U-turn or “reverse ferret” once the media find out and cut him loose.  Whether it’s taking action or expressing sympathy, acting quickly in a crisis is essential.

  1. It’s the hypocrisy!

We’ll leave it to the politicians and pundits to discuss the most egregious of Hancock’s misdoings but we know one thing – the element that will have enraged people most is the fact that he solemnly required us to maintain social distancing and to abide by the regulations while he was blatantly flouting them himself.

Hypocrisy is essentially about fairness, and, as we say in our media training courses, when we explore what makes a media story, there’s nothing that generates headlines or social media storms quite like something that’s blatantly unfair.

Politicians saying one thing and doing another, people ripping off the taxpayer, bosses on luxury holidays while their staff are made redundant – anything that suggests unfairness is meat and drink to the media, both conventional and social.  It’s therefore essential for any organisation in a crisis to appear to be doing the right thing and to be seen as fair and equitable.

  1. Hancock apologised.

He used natural language, and his video appearance wasn’t scripted, which is good.  We recommend this.  If you’re wrong, then you need to apologise and to do so unreservedly.

Weasel words about customers “feeling” that they’ve been let down or saying sorry “for any offence caused” won’t work when people are feeling angry and hurt.  In this case, Hancock’s rallying cry to “Build back better so that this country can fulfil its potential, which is so great.  I will do that with all of my heart,” hits the wrong note.  Do we want this kind of a heroic, Churchillian rally cry from what many would regard as an anti-hero?  Identifying appropriate messages and choosing your words carefully is more important during a crisis situation than at any other time.

  1. But he hasn’t told the whole story.

What’s the deal with Gina Coladangelo role as a director at the Department of Health and Social Care?  What influence could she have?  What about her brother’s company and its numerous NHS contracts?  What’s this business about private email accounts?  You can add your own questions but the point is that there’s nothing that the media likes more than mystery and ambiguity.

The question of “who knew what when?” and the revelations of possible wrongdoing provide a drip feed of coverage that’s great for hacks looking to fill air time and column inches.  But it’s a nightmare for an organisation that wants to move on and let the story die.  The only solution is maximum transparency. Release all the information that you can as soon as you can, and you’ll prevent the story from running and running. This is a point that we emphasise during our crisis communications workshops.

  1. He got caught!

It sounds obvious, but these days everyone has a camera, and everyone is, in effect, a citizen journalist.  Whatever your business you need to be more careful than ever with “the optics.”

Why did United Airlines get into so much trouble over the removal of a passenger four years ago?  Principally because the event was filmed.  The aggressive security guard or the staff member misbehaving – it can all be filmed and can go viral in minutes.  We work extensively with luxury brands and we’re aware that one false move by their staff captured on a smartphone or one revelation about irresponsible supplier practices that are filmed and then released can be disastrous. That’s why during our crisis communications courses, we look not just at how you handle a crisis but how you can prevent one from exploding.

It’s a pretty safe bet that Matt Hancock won’t be the last politician or prominent person to be caught in a clinch or suffer revelations of other misdoings and there’s something depressingly familiar about this whole saga.

However, it does provide some useful lessons in how to manage a difficult situation and we’ll be using pointers from this story in the crisis communications courses that we provide for corporate communications teams and PR agencies.

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