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Proactive issues management – a case study

Written by Genevieve Norton

May 17, 2019

In crisis or issues management it is always recommended to be as proactive as possible with your communication.

Being open, transparent and proactive, as best you can, will help you manage the narrative and hopefully limit the reputational downside from the event.

So, it was fascinating to read a piece in The Australian recently where a political candidate openly admitted to some personal indiscretions. By doing so he avoided the information being ‘uncovered’ by another party and effectively shut down the story as an ongoing issue.

For the story Jason Ball, a Greens candidate in tomorrow’s Federal Election provided an exclusive interview to The Australian’s chief reporter Chip Le Grand. In the interview he revealed he had been subject to allegations of sexual harassment and exploitation from a Greens volunteer following an encounter in the toilets of a gay nightclub in 2016, soon after the last Federal Election.

Following the allegations, the Greens commissioned an independent investigation that cleared Ball of sexual assault, sexual harassment and misconduct. The investigation found the sexual encounter was an affair between two consenting adults, although it did characterise Ball’s actions on the night as poorly judged.

Up until the story in The Australian, the whole affair had been kept under wraps, but there would always have been a risk that it would leak and fall into the wrong hands, where it would be gold for a political opponent. If that happened it would mean broad media coverage, everyone chasing the rumour, third parties commenting and Ball would be putting our fires left, right and centre.

Instead, he’s been afforded a full story where he was able to get across all his key messages and the result was a sympathetic piece that described him as a serious contender. Instead of responding to claims, allegations or comments from political opponents, he drove the agenda.

It was a piece of PR genius. The story has received very little coverage since because there is nothing left to report – it’s all old news.

His choices were clear. He could have said nothing and hoped it stayed confidential, but he would have risked a bigger media story once it came out. Instead, he got on the front foot, risked taking a hit, and has shut down the story.

There are some clear lessons from this that can be applied in the corporate sector. Don’t always assume that internal issues will stay that way.

That’s not to say you should be a completely open book on the company’s entire inner workings, but you do need to consider the reputational risk should an issue that has been managed were to appear in the public arena.

A particular risk, especially for mining companies, is the use of mobile phones and social media where seemingly innocuous issues can appear alarming in a photo or short video. Reporting everything is not practical, but at the very least you need to be prepared to respond. And for bigger site issues, even if not considered ‘material’, you may consider getting on the front foot to avoid the story becoming bigger than it ever was.

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