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Media and Crisis Management

Murdoch – 5 reasons his actions aren’t working

Posted on: July 28th, 2012

Crisis Management: Murdoch – 5 reasons his actions aren’t workingCrisis response – from archives

Faced with a phone hacking scandal of monumental scale in Britain, News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch is calling every play in the crisis PR playbook.   It’s not working, so far.

As of this writing, Murdoch has 1) closed the offending tabloid News of the World, 2) hired an international PR firm, 3) reversed himself and agreed to appear at a parliamentary hearing, 4) forced out a senior executive linked to the tabloid, 5) dropped plans to buy a British broadcast company, 6) compelled the resignation of the CEO of the The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones & Co.) who was in charge overall, 7) apologized in person to the family of a teenage murder victim who’d been hacked, and 8) began full-page newspaper ads of apologies and corrective actions.  Yet the global media titan’s damage control is not stanching the bleeding – for now.  Why?

  1. Well, for one thing, the tactics are familiar.  Many big companies (BP, Toyota) have been in serious trouble and taken similar actions.  They’re the right steps, it’s just that we’ve seen this movie before and there’s less emotional impact.  Been there, done that.
  2. The wrongdoing is so egregious that crisis PR, while necessary, can’t un-ring the sound of this disgusting bell.  Allegedly hacking communications of royalty and celebrity was one thing, but snooping into a kidnapped and murdered girl’s phone as well as those of military war victims reached another order of magnitude.  Throw in reports of perhaps 4000 total targets plus bribing police and this is not good.
  3. The misconduct runs so deep that revelations bubble to the surface almost daily and will likely burst for weeks and months.  Bad news is outpacing and eclipsing corporate attempts to right wrongs.  Malfeasance exposed bit by nauseating bit is producing a parade of headlines tarring News Corp., the police, and the political system.  No wonder it’s being called the media Watergate.
  4. If you break the law PR’s not much help.  It seems that about every fired executive gets arrested.  And God help News Corp. if the FBI probe finds evidence to support rumors of London-like nastiness in the U.S.
  5. If you don’t put money into the bank of public goodwill then don’t expect goodwill in return.  The tabloid hammering of celebrities, royalty, and politicians for years has sold countless newspapers (and not just for News Corp.) but it doesn’t win Nobel Prizes.  How many Brits do you see rallying to Murdoch’s side?   If you lie down with dogs you get fleas.

The ever-confident Murdoch seems off-balance or at least inconsistent.  He called his Wall Street Journal to say the company had handled the crisis well overall with just a few small mistakes but then placed a full-page newspaper apology quoting him saying, “We regret not acting faster to sort things out.”

Unless the scandal spreads to the U.S., Murdoch will probably prevail though scarred.  We don’t talk about BP or Toyota much anymore in spite of their failings, and News Corp.’s crisis actions may prove prudent months from now.  However, I doubt a media baron will ever again wield as much power and fear in the U.K. as Rupert Murdoch once did.

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