Over the last week I've been blogging about how churches can avoid PR disasters. I wrote about what churches can learn from Volvo's famous 'Safety improvement' car crash (brilliant video). Nestlé's disasterous social media episode, and last but by no means least – Tiger Woods exploits. (My blogging buddy Phil Cooke has also written an excellent post on how not to respond to a disaster, yes BP thats you.) While these situations aren't church PR disasters, there are profound lessons for churches.
Just when I thought I'd run out of PR disasters to blog about, another one comes along.
Sarah Ferguson is the Duchess Of York. One could say that the last few days have not been her best. She has been caught in a sting operation by a British tabloid on video accepting money for access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew – The Duke of York. In the video she alleged that her husband knew about it but remained squeaky clean from it. Other sources say that the Prince knew nothing about it. She has since been reported to have said that she regrets her actions.
In the media frenzy who do you believe?
Here is the killer point. Prince Andrew hasn't publically commented on it. He could of responded and denied the acusations and linking of his name to this bribe. But he hasn't. (It's not that uncommon for the Palace not to comment on news reports)
How steps should churches take if someone takes illegal financial advantage in their name or steals money from the church? We need to be aware that:
1. Reputation takes a lifetime to build and a moment to destroy.
Sarah Ferguson is was squeaky clean. Prince Andrew is still has his reputation, but there is now a cloud of uncertainity hanging over his name. No matter how much "good" a church does, the brand & reputation of the church that took decades to build can be destroyed in a moment – even if someone else has stolen money from you or used your church's name for illegal financial advantage. You may not of have been responsible for any illegal activity, but when an employee who works for you rips you off there will always be a question about your organisational reputation. You have to respond.
2. If a story breaks - Explain your side of the story fast & first.
Prince Andrew or the Royal family hasn't talked at all. The media will now fill the void that he left.
Explain your side of the story out fast and first. Stick to the facts and what you know.
Just like Prince Andrew and the Royal Family, if you don't talk to the media it will talk to every one else around you who has a good or bad opinion about your church or organisation (the media news cycle refreshes almost every hour and is hungry for new content).
3. Be honest & tell the whole story
Don't try and spin your way out of a situation. Don't be vague or play with semantics. If something has happened and your church or organisation is somehow implicated don't only listen to lawyers and hold back. Explain:
- The facts of what has happened.
- Why it happened (if you can).
- What you are doing to ensure that it never happens EVER again.
- What steps you are taking regarding the employee.
- Apologise repeatedly & unconditionally to whoever was directly impacted by whatever happened.
You can never say sorry enough.What do you think we can learn? What would you add?