The communication challenge of a crisis

Susan Redden-Makatoa

Ogilvy PR breakfast event examines the entrails of unfolding crises

What do Cardinal George Pell, a small Nepalese baby, two boofy retired AFL footballers, the Rip Curl clothing company and leading crown prosecutor Margaret Cuneen, have in common?

It could be one of those old jokes, but the punchline is no laughing matter because the common denominator is that they are all currently involved in some of the many crises that continually unfold in front of our eyes.

And the ever-present threat of a corporate catastrophe was why we had a capacity house at Ogilvy House, in Sydney on Thursday morning for a breakfast event titled: “Crisis communications: the challenge with right now”.

It was standing room only as 75 clients and industry representatives joined with a number of senior Ogilvy employees to listen to a panel moderated by Susan Redden Makatoa, the MD of Ogilvy’s Corporate practice and an acknowledged expert in crisis communications.

Joining her on stage was a panel comprising Maria Catanzariti, Communications Manager for Twitter Australia, Meghan Senior, Mars Food Australia’s Corporate Affairs Director, Vyvyan Hammond, eBay’s Senior Social Media Marketing Manager, and flying in from Singapore for the occasion was Prerna Pant, the Co-founder and General Manager of Circus Social, a WPP partner company that specialises in social intelligence marketing and platforms.

The session was divided into five sections, each of which analysed a number of current crises.

The heading ‘Missing the mark’ was seen to encapsulate the actions of Bronwyn Bishop and ‘Choppergate’ and Victorian Taxis’ hashtags #yourtaxis and #taxisyourway which were intended to rally Twitter support for the taxi industry but instead attracted a litany of very public complaints.

BP’s Brazilian mining disaster and the 7-Eleven wage scandal were serious, expensive and reputation damaging crises which unfolded after early warnings were ignored, while Cardinal Pell’s seeming lack of empathy for sex abuse victims and Patties Foods’ tardy reaction to the frozen berries scandal were cited as examples of bad corporate reputation management.

Susan Redden Makatoa gave a special mention to the owner of the bus which crashed after failing to negotiate its way under a low bridge in Melbourne a few days ago. As some of the injured passengers were being rescued by authorities a person from the company carefully taped over the company name and telephone number on the side of the bus – in full view of the television cameras and news crews gathered to record the accident!

If you were looking for a long burning issue, then the panel’s examination of the three years and counting Samsung washing machine issue would have sufficed, while the ‘What were you thinking?’ heading perfectly summed up the reaction to Matchbox 20 singer Rob Thomas’s racist joke, basketballer Alice Kunek’s blackface appearance and NRL’s Mitchell Pearce’s Australia Day antics.

Examining such a list of corporate calamity and individual ignominy always makes for entertainment – unless it’s your company involved. For more information on Ogilvy’s Issues and Crisis (ICU) skills and capabilities, please contact Arli Miller, Ogilvy PR Australia on or 0427 894 817.

Written by Sam North- Ogilvy PR Media Director