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Crisis comms and expecting the unexpected – or what to do when a multi-coloured monkey with a fake penis swings by

Approx. reading time: 3 minutes

We advise clients on our emergency planning and crisis communications courses to gaze at the horizon and draw up a list of bad things that could happen. And then, in the name of preparedness, to map against that list the key messages their nominated spokespeople would deliver via the media should those things happen. Saves a lot of time and effort scrabbling around for what to say and who to say it mid-crisis.

Most come up with the obvious: floods; fires; financial irregularities. Many have now added pestilence (aka Covid-19) to their Four Horsemen of the Corporate Apocalypse risk registers. But I’d wager not one organisation anywhere has a plan for what to do when their reputation takes a hit from a six foot rainbow-coloured monkey with bare breasts, buttocks and a clip on willy. I mean why bother? It’s not going to happen is it? Too off the wall…

Except that’s exactly what happened to a local authority. Said primate turned up at a reading event for children. Yes, for children! And I don’t mean randomly or mischievously gate crashing proceedings uninvited, causing red faces out of the blue as it were. I mean actually booked to appear in all its semi-naked glory. So you can imagine it caused quite a heads-must-roll kerfuffle, quickly spilling over from social to print and broadcast media. Politics being what it is the affair even trended on Twitter for a time giving the council’s head of communications pink kittens (if you’ll excuse the mixed animal metaphor).

I won’t add to the council’s embarrassment by naming it here. My purpose is simply to ask: what’s the lesson – beyond the trite expect the unexpected?

Strikes me that although the specifics of the case are so bizarre as to be wholly unpredictable, it does fit into a category that one could loosely call offence caused but not intended. The mayor having a wardrobe malfunction at a civic function might also fit into this category along with a council flyer containing a double entendre that the sub editors missed. The idea is you work out in the planning phase what to say in these kinds of cases. Then at least you have a working set of generic key messages that can be tweaked to fit the specifics. Quicker than starting from scratch.

So here are my generic key messages for OCBNI (horrible acronym alert – offence caused but not intended) situations with suggested quotes for the specific situation in italics:

  1. Say sorry swiftly. Sorry may seem to be the hardest word but it costs nothing and could save a run on your reputational stock later. “It certainly wasn’t our intention to cause offence but clearly we have and for that, of course, we are truly sorry.”
  2. Explain what the intention was. People (and monkeys) often get hold of the wrong end of the stick. Sometimes deliberately so. The story then becomes all about the stick. So remind people what the real story is. In the above case you could say something like: “Our intention was to get young people interested in reading. It didn’t go quite to plan (smile) but reading is such an important life skill and we certainly make no apology for trying really hard to encourage it.”
  3. Concede that something went wrong or, at the very least, didn’t go right. Journalists, interviewers, the baying social media mob love to push back. If you step back voluntarily there’s nothing for them to push against. “This shouldn’t have happened. We need to understand how it happened. And when we understand how it happened – even if it was just basic human error, someone not engaging their brain before booking the monkey act – we need to do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
  4. Steer the interview process so you can re-iterate and, therefore, reinforce the apology but be determined to end on a positive note. “So our apologies for any offence caused but remember reading is a vital skill – quite simply people who learn to read well in childhood tend to earn more, enjoy better health and live longer. (And that definitely isn’t monkey business.)”*

*I’d be inclined to omit the bit in brackets depending on the tone of the interview/interviewer and the nature of the audience.


This article originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile but with the word penis redacted because I didn’t want to cause offence! But, of course, if I have here I am truly sorry…

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How to prepare for a media interview when you have very little time

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

One of the downsides of self-guided online learning is that without the live interaction of face-to-face training you can’t ask your trainer questions as you go along. So we’ve launched a new service at ACM Training called “Ask the Owls” to complement our Thinkific courses. The idea is you ask questions about media, communication and professional development issues and our experts (the owls) do their very best to provide the answers.

Here our media trainer, Richard Uridge, answers a question emailed to asktheowls@acmtraining.co.uk by a delegate on one of his courses who wants to know if it’s possible to be ready for an interview in under five minutes.

ACM Training’s communications expert, Richard Uridge, answers a question from a professor of civil engineering who wants to know if it’s possible to prepare for a media interview in under five minutes.
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Should you give a media interview on a subject that’s slightly off topic for you?

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Whether you’re sitting a self-guided course at your own pace or taking part in a live trainer-led session, asking questions during online training is (or at least seems to be) a whole heap harder than it was in the days of face-to-face learning. So our AskTheOwls service is designed to make asking questions simple and bridge the gap between old and new delivery methods.

In this short video our media and comms expert (owl), Richard Uridge, answers a question emailed to asktheowls@acmtraining.co.uk by a university professor who’s often asked to comment on issues that aren’t quite her area of expertise and wants to know if giving an interview in these circumstances is a good or bad idea.

Our media and comms owl answers a question submitted by an academic.
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Coronavirus crisis communications

Approx. reading time: 3 minutes

Many companies (I’d hazard most) don’t have a crisis communications plan. A vague idea about what to do in an emergency? Yes. A carefully considered and well rehearsed business continuity plan? Maybe. A clear idea of what to say to stakeholders either internally via the usual channels or externally via the media including, where appropriate, social media? No.

But coronavirus has the potential to make us all wish we had. With the level of infection and disruption now being anticipated at the very highest levels of government, businesses large and small (my own included) face an existential threat. And effective communication with staff, clients, suppliers and others over the coming weeks and months could (and I don’t think I’m overstating this) make a life and death difference. Not just company life and death either.

How so? Because clear, consistent, truthful and timely communications can, for example, make the difference between a pissed off workforce who think their bosses really don’t care and a highly motivated workforce who feel valued and are prepared to be flexible in the face of adversity by working from home, working odd hours, foregoing bonuses, taking unpaid leave…

Because clear, consistent, truthful and timely communications can persuade suppliers to delay issuing that invoice even though they’re experiencing similar cash flow problems. Because effective communication can lower the expectation and heighten the appreciation of customers.

But while being truthful should come naturally 😂 being clear, consistent and timely needs planning and practice.

“The virus is on us. Isn’t it too late now?”

It’s never too late to make a plan which, in any case, doesn’t need to take long – especially in smaller, less complex organisations. The first planning step is to work out what you need/want to say and to who: in other words your key messages and your target audiences. The next step is to map the audiences to what become your target media and channels – internal email, the intranet, external media the internet. Make sure those key messages are clear and concise and can be readily understood by the audience. You might be inclined to say “we’re facing challenges on the supply side of our business so our customers may experience issues with their orders.” Your customers would prefer you to say: “We’re sorry but because of coronavirus it may take us a little bit longer to deliver your parcel. We know you’ll understand. And here, as a thank you for your patience, is a discount code for your next order.”

Being consistent means everybody is communicating the same message (not that the message can’t change – flexibility is key in a crisis). A lack of consistency can lead to confusion. If your line manager is saying staff can work from home but your boss says you’ve got to come to work unless you’re ill you’re likely to lose faith in both.

Being truthful is, I hope, self-explanatory. I may be naive, but honesty and integrity are rewarded. People want to work for and with organisations that genuinely embrace these things. Yes, price is important but value can be expressed in other ways. So what I mean here is more about being open. The truth will out (and with social media probably sooner rather than later) so why hold back. Imagine the furore restaurant chain would face if it didn’t reveal kitchen or wait staff had fallen ill with the virus until two weeks after the outbreak?

Being timely is tied into the above. When a situation is rapidly evolving there’s an inclination to keep quiet until the picture is clearer. But witness the backlash the government has experienced by only issuing virus updates weekly. A backlash so significant that it’s backed down. A “communications fumble” as the Chief Medical Officer admitted. That position was clearly untenable for UK plc and should be for all companies in these worrying times. I’m not suggesting you need to issue a running commentary to staff or in the media. But if the gaps between company bulletins are too long then all sorts of information can rush into the vacuum. Information over which you have no control. In a word or two: fake news.

To help you control the message and draw up and execute your own crisis comms plans we’ll be running a series of webinars for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. More details to follow. But if you’d like to sign up email me – richard@acmtraining.co.uk and I’ll be sure to send you a link and access code.


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Preparing for media interviews – the importance of rehearsals

Approx. reading time: 4 minutes

There was a time when I was growing up that I didn’t see much of my sister, Joanne. She’d joined Toddington Amateur Dramatic Society (TADS) and for long periods was busy rehearsing for her next role along with the rest of the cast. Or at least that’s what she told our mum and dad. Now I’m clearly not a very good brother because I don’t remember many of her performances. I think she may have played Liz in Billy Liar (or maybe I’m confusing her with Julie Christie). But what I do remember is neither Jo nor Julie ever missed a line and both had a magnificent stage presence.

Joanne Uridge playing Liz in Billy Liar.

Why? Because actors rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again so that when the curtain opens and they walk on stage they hit their marks and they hit their lines. Doesn’t matter whether they’re walking the boards before a modest audience at the village hall or in front of a sell out crowd in London’s West End.

So why would anybody stand in front of an audience ten, fifty, a hundred, a thousand times larger without rehearsing? An audience so big it wouldn’t fit in the world’s biggest auditorium. But they do. Every day of the week. In media interviews. And it’s hardly surprising that they fluff their lines.

In my media training workshops I explain that interviewees must think of themselves as performers. That although there is no obvious stage or proscenium arch (especially if they’re doing a down-the-line radio interview from home) they are, in effect, walking onto a stage with an audience of potentially millions. That frightens them. More than a bit. But it helps make the point that if actors rehearse for performances in far smaller actual theatres, then so should interviewees for their performances in the far, far larger virtual “theatres” of radio programmes and podcasts, television networks and online video channels such as News24 and YouTube.

When my sister was at home she spent hours pacing up and down muttering words under her breath. Learning lines is, of course, a big chunk of the actor’s craft. But actually learning lines verbatim, committing a script to memory, is one of the worst ways of rehearsing for a media interview. So what’s the best way to prepare for a media interview? Here’s my six step rehearsal guide.

  1. Distil your key messages from the subject matter. Stick to three or four and try to condense them down to bullet points. Underline the functional word (or words) in each bullet point . Divide a blank screen or sheet of paper into three columns and write these functional words (the essence of your key messages) in the left hand column.
  2. Add up to three carefully selected facts and figures per key message to column two. These facts and figures provide the evidence and speak to the rational part of the the audience – their minds, if you will.
  3. But we’re emotional creatures too. So to engage the audience’s hearts as well as their minds, think of a story or two (they don’t need to be very detailed) to help illustrate your key messages and jot these down in column three. At ACM Training we call this a planning matrix which I’ll happily concede is a rather lofty way of describing a piece of paper with a few scribbles on it. But believe me it can work wonders and turn a fuzzy, unfocussed and unstructured interview into a masterpiece.
  4. Open up your smartphone stopwatch app or countdown timer and outloud (yes, really) practice putting the words on the matrix together into coherent sentences and paragraphs of approximately 30 seconds each. Each time you do this choose different components so you don’t, in effect, end up learning a fixed script but you become well versed at what’s called extemporising lots of different versions.
  5. Once you’ve got the hang of this bit anticipate the questions you might be asked. If you’re likely to be put on the back foot during the interview try especially to predict the hardest questions. For example, will you resign? Or, who’s the blame?
  6. Then practice dealing with these questions and moving on to your key messages, facts, figures and stories. As before, try to bring your responses in around 30″ long. It’ll be harder because, short of ignoring the questions entirely (like some politicians), some of that time will inevitably be taken up dealing with the question leaving you less time to move on to what you want to talk about. Have a quick listen to this podcast on why a question and response instead of a question and answer approach is the best way of handling media interviews. When you feel comfortable delivering your key messages – illustrated and evidenced in a variety of ways – irrespective of the question and have got the feel for speaking to length then it’s showtime! Providing you don’t sound slippery or evasive and have struck the right tone. But those are other lessons for other posts.

Actors rehearse. So should interviewees. Remember you’re on a stage of sorts. And while you can’t see their faces the audience is potentially huge. So break a leg as they say in show-business.

Richard Uridge, media trainer

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Prince Andrew and that Newsnight interview.

Approx. reading time: 4 minutes

Let me start by declaring an interest: I believe the monarchy should be abolished and that the UK won’t become a mature democracy unless and until it gets rid of the royals, although I appreciate the enormous sacrifice the queen has made in service of her country and would only make this long overdue constitutional change at the end of her reign.

So the republican part of me was pleased that prince Andrew made such a hash of his Newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis. But the media trainer in me was appalled that someone should perform so badly. Or as one royal watcher put it:

“I was expecting a train crash. That was a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion level bad.”

Charlie Proctor, Royal Central website editor.

The purpose of this post then is to help you avoid a similar nuclear explosion level bad interview should you find yourself in a bunker like the prince.

People with controversies swirling around them do interviews in an attempt to put the record straight and, in doing so, rescue their reputations. But if, as a result, records ends up wonkier and reputations more tattered, then saying nothing is probably the better option – the least said soonest mended approach as it were. It’s a tough call though, not least because you have to factor in not only what you say in response to the questions asked – the content – but how you say it – the tone. And you’ve got to get both right. Plenty of innocent interviewees have been found guilty in the court of public opinion not on factual but on tonal grounds. I should add at this point that although Andrew is being judged on both counts I’m going to limit my comments here to matters of tone because none of us (him and his alleged victim aside) has any way of telling his absolute guilt or innocence.

Being tonally correct means saying you’re sorry even though you may think you have nothing to apologise for. Being tonally correct means conceding some ground. And it means showing compassion.

Show some compassion

It might not have got him off the rap entirely, but imagine how much better it would’ve been had Andrew felt able to acknowledge right at the start of the interview that he appreciated his discomfort was nothing compared to the pain and suffering felt by the victims of sexual abuse. That he couldn’t begin to imagine how awful that would be. That by speaking he wasn’t in any way, shape or form trying to belittle or undermine those who’d experienced it.

And being truly compassionate extends beyond victims to perpetrators. So Andrew should next have nodded to the anguish that led his friend, Jeffrey Epstein, to take his own life and to the grief felt by the financier’s close friends and family.

Concede some ground

When you’re under attack defending every inch of ground seems instinctively like the right thing to do. It rarely is. In military metaphors and media interviews if the ground you’re on is dodgy then pull back to safer ground. To a position that is easier to defend. And concede it voluntarily. Don’t be forced to retreat. Because otherwise there’ll be casualties. A bloodied reputation. What Andrew should have said more plainly than he did, is something like this:

“I was a poor judge of character. With hindsight I was wrong to count on him as a friend. Again with hindsight, I was wrong to see him (as we often see our friends however badly chosen) through rose-tinted spectacles. And out of misguided loyalty I was wrong not to have ended that friendship much sooner.”

Note the number of wrongs in the preceding paragraph. I accept, of course, that three wrongs don’t make a proverbial right. But repeating a point at least that many times reinforces it and prepares the ground tonally for the next step…

Say sorry

Now because you’ve conceded you were wrong, wrong, wrong you can say you’re sorry, sorry, sorry reinforcing that point in a similar fashion. You’re sorry that while you personally saw nothing untoward, the hugely disturbing fact remains Epstein abused girls and young women. You’re sorry that you were such a poor judge of character (whilst adding that abusers go to great lengths to hide their behaviour from those around them). You’re sorry that you didn’t end the friendship sooner. Sorry that by association the royal family has been tarnished. Sorry, especially, that your own daughters have been affected. Sorry that you haven’t on this occasion upheld the extremely high standards demanded of royals.

Incidentally, you should never ask for pity – certainly not explicitly. Show pity for others and others, if they think you deserve it, will show pity for you. Pity has to be earned. And while we’re on the subject of pity, in crisis communications (and this certainly qualifies as that) pity is one of the three Ps. The other two are praise and promise. So Andrew might also have added his praise for the hard work and diligence of those investigating Epstein’s crimes and promised to do all he can to assist those inquiries. Which begs a follow up question (and did from Emily Maitlis): so you’d be happy to travel to the US and speak to the FBI if necessary? To which there is but one short response: “Yes, of course. I want to help and I have nothing to hide.”

Unless you do. In which case you’ve got to be a great liar. Hope there’s no smoking gun. Or exercise your right to remain silent. Which brings us right back to where we started and the decision to do the interview in the first place. We’re led to believe Andrew’s spin doctor resigned after just a few weeks in the role because his advice to the prince was to take the fifth as the Americans might say.

So what would my advice have been? If I thought the prince could manage the interview process as I’ve outlined above and proved he could do it during some realistic rehearsals (with me playing the role of Maitlas) then I’d have told him to ask mum. If he couldn’t, then I’d have told him to keep mum. As it is, he didn’t seek my help and, like I said, I’m a republican so there’ll be two heads on pikes outside Buckingham Palace: mine and his. My Aunty Dee always said I looked a bit like him and we’re about the same age. So if you’re passing I’ll be the one mouthing Two Princes by the Spin Doctors.

I ain’t got no future or a family tree
But I know what a prince and lover ought to be

The Spin Doctors – Two Princes

Richard Uridge facilitates ACM Training’s media and communications workshops.

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What #Boris should’ve said

Approx. reading time: 2 minutes

When even the usually pro-Johnson Daily Mail joins the now deafening calls for our wannabe Prime Minister to say something about that row, the MP and his advisors will know that saying nothing is no longer an option. Not that it ever was in my view. Questions, however intrusive, have to be dealt with. Because until they’re dealt with it’s nigh on impossible to move on.

But there’s a world of difference between dealing with questions and answering them. And it’s in this gap that if I was coaching the MP I’d seek to find some wriggle room to do six things:

  1. Say sorry.
  2. Say thank you.
  3. Offer some context.
  4. Concede some ground.
  5. Make a promise.
  6. Sound contrite (but without completely losing the BoJo mojo – whatever that is).

So here’s what Boris should’ve said:

“First of all thank you to our publicly-spirited neighbours for being concerned about our welfare and doing the right thing when they couldn’t raise us by ringing the doorbell. And secondly thank you to the police for responding so swiftly. Better safe than sorry is, very sensibly, their guiding principle. 

What Boris Johnson should’ve said but didn’t

“The police were quickly assured that this was nothing more than a full and frank but otherwise run-of-the-mill exchange of views between two colourful adults. 

And I would like to reassure you in turn that our only sin was to fail to realise that we were discussing matters – yes animatedly and at the end of a stressful week – a little louder than we’d realised and a little louder than is sensible with thin walls and open windows. 

Now I don’t mean to make light of matters but this was nothing more than one of those ding dongs that many, many couples have when they let off steam. To read anything more into this whole affair, to impugn my character and, more importantly, to impugn Carrie’s character is plain wrong. So too is questioning the motives of our neighbours. They did what is right and I commend them for it. To condemn them  is again plain wrong. 

I apologise for having drawn them and you all into this. In most circumstances this kind of lovers tiff would be forgotten with the kiss and make up. But I accept that running for PM is not most circumstances and you have a right – up to a point – to inquire into my private life. That’s why I’ve said what I’ve said today. I shall be saying no more on the matter if for no other reason than to give poor Carrie a break. She and I both agree that there are very many more important matters which we should be discussing and it would be a crying shame if those issues weren’t properly aired because the two of us had aired our difference of opinion so vocally. 

So forgive me if I move on.

I call this my deal with and move on approach. Compare this to the one he tried which might loosely be called the ignore and move on technique. It rarely works except where the questions you’re ignoring are trivial and the audience agrees they’re trivial and sides with you instead of the journalists asking such trivia.


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How #tweetyourthesis can help academics prepare for media interviews

Approx. reading time: 3 minutes

The #tweetyourthesis hashtag has been doing the social media rounds in higher education since it was coined by Susan Greenberg, a lecturer at Roehampton in 2012. Or that’s what my own very cursory and possibly unreliable Google-based research tells me. Whatever the hashtag’s origin, it quickly caught on as a way of letting off a bit of steam between postgrads to relieve the pain of knocking out (😭) a 50,000 word research paper. But after spending an enjoyable and productive afternoon media training scientists at the University of Birmingham (including a PhD student about to start writing up her thesis), it struck me that this harmless bit of fun is a brilliant way of helping prepare all academics for media interviews whether they’re talking about their actual theses or some other research.

Why? Because turning your thesis into a Tweet (even if you don’t publish it) can help you synthesise what your research is about from a layperson’s perspective and become a better communicator to external audiences as a result. After all, #sciencecommunication is vitally important but that’s another hashtag! Back to #tweetyourthesis …

It’s a highly reductive process. Turning 50,000 words or more into 280 characters or fewer is a challenge. But doing media is a challenge. Not least because it too is a highly reductive process with that 20 minute interview (at 3 words per second approximately 3,600 words) being edited down to a 20 second soundbite (of about 60 words). So better get used to it before the interview and, if you actually #tweetyourthesis , crowdsource advice from others who’ve been there, done that, got the Today programme tee shirt (it has a picture of John Humphries on the front and a Rottweiler on the back).

Here at ACM Training I use a planning matrix to help academics (and others for that matter) prepare for interviews. It sounds rather lofty and students of a certain age are often disappointed when I don’t conjure Keanu Reeves from my training tool box. But when all is said and done it’s simply a piece of paper or screen divided into three columns. Column one is where you jot down the three most important features of your research – let’s call them key messages. These shouldn’t necessarily be what’s most interesting to you but what’s most interesting from the audience’s perspective. Column two is where you choose up to three facts or figures to evidence those messages. And column three is for the narrative or stories that provide illustration. Think of column one aiding brevity, column two understanding or rationality, column three the emotionally engaging stuff and all three together the clarity and relevance. I then ask my trainees to practice extemporising a series of 20-30″ soundbites from their matrices using the stopwatch or countdown timer on their smartphones to keep them honest.

I like playing #tweetyourthesis too, although, of course, I wouldn’t dream of actually Tweeting your thesis (and I haven’t started mine yet). So here’s my effort at taking the editor’s proverbial red pen to the academics I met earlier this week. You know who you are. And, if I’ve done a half decent job, your colleagues should recognise you from what I’ve written. Feel free to copy, paste and Tweet what follows from your own social media accounts – using the #tweetyourthesis hashtag, naturally. Or, better still, come up with your own version and Tweet that instead.

A quantum clock so accurate if you set it to midnight at Big Bang it’d only be a second out nearly 14 billion years later. (That’s today). One that potentially could make navigation systems more accurate especially in remote areas hidden from the gaze of satellites. [266 characters]

Birmingham University quantum physicist

A contact lens-size sticking plaster with tiny grooves on its surface that encourages collagen (think human scaffolding) to heal without scarring, could save the sight of million and reduce the physiological and psychological impact of other scars. [248 characters]

Birmingham University biochemical engineer

Atoms harnessed to measure tiny changes in gravity to help us “see” below the surface. Like Newton’s apple but smaller and colder. Research that could be applied to roadworks and save us hours sitting in avoidable traffic jams and £ millions in lost productivity. [263 characters]

Birmingham University metrologist

It’s worth noting the #tweetyourthesis hashtag started when Tweets were limited to 140 characters. Now you’ve got 280. Easy innit?

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The #Gatwick #drone part 2 – what the policeman should have said

Approx. reading time: 2 minutes

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. And yes, it’s easy to be wise after the event. But in my previous post on the Gatwick drone incident I promised I’d suggest an alternative – and hopefully better – response to the one that prompted lurid headlines and landed Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley in hot water with his Chief Constable and the Government.

The BBC News presenter asked him, you may remember, what turned out to be a trick question: “Are you even considering the possibility that there may not have been genuine drone sightings in the first place?”

By answering it the way he did – conceding the point – Det Ch Supt Tingley set a proverbial hare running which proved hard to stop. Denying the journalist’s contention outright wouldn’t have been advisable either because (mixing metaphors hopelessly) he’d have boxed himself into a corner if it turned out there wasn’t, in fact, a drone. My version doesn’t ignore the question but lets the facts speak for themselves and, in turn, allows the audience to draw its own conclusions.

Police officer:  “We’re investigating more than a hundred sightings – not just from members of the public but from police officers and airport staff too. Some of those sightings may, of course, be duplicates (several different people reporting the same thing). Some may be genuine mistakes (people seeing what they think is a drone but which turns out to have been something else – a bird of prey for example). Some could be made up for malicious reasons. But all that said we have to act on the information given.

“Aviation is, quite rightly, a risk-averse industry. A collision between an aircraft and a drone could be calamitous. So we have a duty to do all we can to keep people safe. We exercise what we call the precautionary principle – better safe than sorry in other words. Now I understand that the impact of all this is huge and I’d like to add my apologies to those of the airport and airlines for the disruption caused. I’d also like to thank the public for their continued patience and understanding. I’d like to pay tribute to my police colleagues, airport and airline staff, the Civil Aviation Authority and now the Army for their hard work in getting Gatwick back to normal as soon as it’s safe to do so. And I’d like to reiterate my determination to bring those responsible to justice. Let me be absolutely clear. We are investigating a crime.”

Compare this to what Det Ch Supt Tingley actually said.

Now I fully accept I had several hours to carefully consider my response compared to the detective who almost certainly only had several minutes and was also shouldering heavy responsibilities as the SIO (senior investigating officer). That said the purpose of media and crisis communications training it to have the benefit of foresight. Foresight, of course, is not as good and never as accurate as hindsight but it’s certainly better than being blind-sided. Plan for the worst, hope for the best and be flexible.

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Schrödinger’s drone – three crisis comms lessons from the Gatwick closure

Approx. reading time: 2 minutes

Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley probably didn’t have the best of breaks. He’s the Sussex police officer who admitted in an interview just before Christmas that there may not have been a drone at all – despite the numerous reported sightings that brought Gatwick Airport to a standstill over two days, disrupted 1,000 flights and affected 140,000 passengers.

Following a hastily arranged conference call with Government ministers, Tingley’s remark was explained away as “poor communications.” His press office issued a clarification. And then his boss, Sussex Chief Constable Giles York, appeared to contradict him, stating on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I am absolutely certain a drone was flying throughout the period the airport was closed.”

Giles went on to say that his officer “was trying to describe an investigative approach, that asks ‘how can we prove the presence of the drone in the first place?’” But he conceded Tingley’s remark had “amplified the chaos” surrounding the incident.

So what can be learned from the curious incident of the drone which, not unlike Schrödinger’s Cat, appears simultaneously to have been both present and not present? Here’s my analysis of the original exchange on BBC News and three lessons for all of us involved in media, PR and communications. Once you’ve had a look a what I have to say please subscribe to our blog and the ACM Training YouTube channel (if you haven’t already).

So what should the Detective Chief Super have said? I’ll be making a suggestion or two in the next post.