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Philip Schofield and This Morning – The Crisis Communications Lesson
May 30, 2023

“Why is this a story?” someone asked one of our trainers at a party over the weekend. They were talking about Phillip Schofield’s departure from ITV’s This Morning. Given that our trainer is a working journalist (like all of our trainers), providing media training courses for a wide range of companies and individuals, the assumption was, quite understandably, that they might be able to answer this question.

We provide media interview coaching, crisis communications and message development courses for individuals and organisations in all kinds of different sectors, including, oddly enough, the media industry. We help TV companies, celebrities and other media organisations to prepare for media interviews and to handle difficult questions and crisis situations.

Philip Schofield as a Media Story

So, to return to the question, why is this sorry saga such a story for the media? First, it is about the media, and the media loves a story about the media – whether it’s about journalists, media organisations or a debate about reporting and journalism. It’s a safe bet that the ITV press office knew that other media outlets would be all over this story. Second, the events that have played out over the last few weeks have a strong human element – someone who has been very successful in their career and is apparently loved by millions is suddenly brought low. “Build them up – and knock them down” is something of a media cliché, but like most clichés, it’s true. So many media stories are successful due to elements of human emotions.

Third, this story has conflict and argument – Philip Schofield versus ITV and perhaps even his co-host Holly Willoughby with allegations made and rebutted about a “toxic” culture on the show. Fourth, there’s a peep behind the curtains – as with a story about the Royal Family or any other well-known institution, we, as the public, love to see what’s really happening.

The fifth reason for these events still grabbing the headlines – and being discussed at parties over the weekend – is that the story has legs. Schofield’s resignation happened nearly two weeks ago, but since then, many of the interested parties have added their tuppence worth as allegations have flown, revelations have been made, and allegations have been aired and then rebutted.

How this Story Integrates into Training

This coming week we’ll be providing crisis communications courses and media training workshops to various organisations, and it’s a safe bet that the Schofield story and its latest developments will be discussed as we look at what makes a media story and ask: “How can an organisation handle a crisis?” The main issue here is that, as I just pointed out, this story has longevity. If you’re managing a crisis, you need to release the facts quickly and stick to your story. “Tell it all, tell it quickly and tell it truthfully” is what we advise clients in our crisis communications workshops.

The first point is important here – you need to release facts that might not be helpful. This might be an email warning weeks before that the incident might occur or a reference to a near miss that occurred before the event itself. This might sound counterintuitive; after all, you want to kill the story, don’t you? Not add more fuel to the fire. But the truth is that these facts will emerge and, like the news of Schofield’s relationship with a younger man who ITV later employed, they’ll give the crisis those legs that the media love – but media relations people quite understandably hate. It’s better to get it all out in one go. Also, by releasing this information yourself, you’ll appear proactive and open and able to manage it more effectively. Here are five things that you should do when a crisis looks like it is about to erupt.

This brings us to the next point. If you’re managing a crisis, you need to be the single source of truth: the place that journalists and others come to get relevant information. If you’re not forthcoming and don’t help the media with their enquiries, they won’t stop covering you; they’ll go elsewhere for insights and updates. This could be an academic or expert in the sector, but it could also be a disgruntled former employee or a competitor. You need to ensure that journalists get their information from you, or rather your PR company or in-house media relations team. That’s one reason we work with PR agencies and in-house comms teams to help them prepare for these crisis situations.

What should ITV do?

ITV could also offer to carry out an enquiry into what went wrong here. This particular situation doesn’t require a full investigation in the way that an explosion, a cyberattack, an allegation of racism, sexism or bullying, an accident or a serious systems failure might do. However, offering to take action here would put the organisation in a better light and would give spokespeople and press office staff that useful “get-out-of-jail-free-card” by allowing them to explain that they can’t answer certain specific questions until the inquiry has been reported.

Key Media Stories

It may well be that by the end of this week, the world has moved on from this story – after all, there is the little matter of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the state of the economy and the prospect of AI eating all of us alive to consider. Either way, we’ll be mentioning the Philip Schofield case in our future crisis communications courses and media training courses and extracting lessons from it.

To book your media training or crisis communications training course today, please call 07958 239892 or email gareth@communicatemedia.com.

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