The incident. This is the “breaking news” stage. “What happened?” is the key question. And the news travels very fast from the breaking news tab to the headlines – it doesn’t take long for the story to jump the fire trench and get into the forest.
The next stage is characterised by a focus on the “victims” and the response. The focus moves quickly from the incident itself (although new facts will continue to emerge) to the “drama.” How could this have happened? The details of the incident. The unfolding misery. How is the organisation/shipping company responding? How quickly did the oil responders get to the scene? The focus will be like a laser on the guilty party – or any party the public thinks might be guilty.
The media’s fickle finger of fate will point at the organisation or individual who appears to be at the centre of the storm. The media pack around the taxi. The shouted questions in the street. The aerial footage. The drone shots. The media pack will roam around and catch whoever will talk about what’s just happened.
“Experts” start to appear on the major broadcast networks, victims start talking in-depth about their experiences, and the organisation starts to give its side of the story.
The blame game; the finger pointing act. Think back to Deepwater Horizon when executives of the various companies started blaming each other. In Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’, Mercutio is given the line ‘A plague a’ both your houses!’ and once the blame game starts it is a plague on everyone.
Everyone has an opinion about you, your product, your organisation, your industry, the way you dress, the way you look, your background, even your country (ask Iran!).
“I think I know what my mother would say. I think she’d look across the dispatch box and she’d say: put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem.” D. Cameron (British Prime Minister, February 2016) when asked to comment on an Opposition Party policy crisis.
This is all about blame with the key question focused on “why.” If it’s a slow news day elsewhere your crisis is radiated everywhere. A nice day for a twitapocalypse.
Ok, we’ve had the screaming headlines. What next?
Calm voices return as we move to the fallout or resolution stage. Be careful. One slip, or even the occurrence of a vaguely similar incident elsewhere in shipping, can put you back in the dunghill. Your crisis is now permanently in print, on Google, in Wikipedia – searchable and discoverable.
Normally, this stage marks the end of the crisis; there is some resolution. There might be some funerals; a Party inquiry, or Parliamentary Select Committee hearings. Your ships keep sailing; seafarers go back to work; spill responders go home.
The narratives of media stories play out in very predictable patterns, the evidence is plain for all to see – just watch the news, follow twitter, look at Facebook posts and you will see the patterns. That’s the good news. And the bad? Well, it happens at lightning speed, so if you’re not prepared you and your company will become the villains.