Bridgid Nzekwu named ‘Outstanding Woman in Professional Services’

Bridgid Nzekwu, Director of Media Training at TNR, PA Group’s specialist communications consultancy, was named Outstanding Woman in Professional Services at the 2018 PRECIOUS Awards on 27 September.

Established in 2007, the PRECIOUS Awards celebrate the professional achievements of women of colour in the UK.

In addition to a 20-year career in broadcast journalism which saw Bridgid appointed the country’s first female mixed-race news reader, the award recognised her current role as one of the UK’s most sought-after media training and public speaking coaches.

She works regularly with spokespeople at the forefront of national news agenda, preparing representatives from leading national and international brands for high-profile media interviews, Select Committee appearances, major speeches and more.

Accepting the award, Bridgid paid tribute to her late mother, Geraldine, and TNR colleagues Amanda Poole-Connor, MD, and Liz Isemann, Media Training Manager, saying, “I am where I am thanks to some incredible women”.

She added, “For 20 years I was a broadcast journalist, asking the hard questions. Now I help people to answer those questions when they are not feeling confident, when they are feeling under attack and not sure of themselves.

“Many of the delegates who come to me for training are experts – they know their stuff, they’ve got so much to offer, but just need a bit of help to make them more confident when they are talking about their brand, their work or their business, particularly in front of the media.”

Facebook’s crisis handling – epic fail

Facebook’s response to the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal is proving remarkably inept. The dynamite revelation by a whistleblower, that the data of 50 million users was mined without their consent and used by a political consultancy, threatens the very future of the social network.  Yet it has taken five days for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to issue a statement.  The story broke on Saturday, by Wednesday Facebook shares fell by more than 2 per cent and were down more than 11 per cent on Thursday.  At the time of writing, $57 billion has been wiped off the market value of Facebook in less than a week (whilst Twitter’s share price has risen 3%). Only after all this fallout has Zuckerberg belatedly admitted that the company has “made mistakes” and that there has been “a breach of trust”.

In terms of trying to manage the story, Zuckerberg and his organisation have already failed to avoid three enormous blunders which are routinely explored in crisis media training.

  1. Silence is NOT golden. Reacting to a crisis at a snail’s pace is a self-inflicted wound that can herald the death-knell of reputation and eventually end careers and companies. Facebook is not only haemorrhaging money but users too, who started closing their accounts well before the #deletefacebook exhortation from Whatsapp founder Brian Acton.  When a crisis affects your organisation, putting out a statement as early as possible is a not-to-be-missed chance to be part of the narrative and put your case forward.
  2. Lance the boil. A key principle of managing a crisis is being upfront about everything as quickly as possible and saying sorry at the earliest opportunity if an apology is warranted. This allows the focus to turn to remedying actions much sooner, as opposed to being exposed to the death by a thousand cuts of drip-drip allegations.  The most painful phase of a crisis lasts much longer if the organisation at its epicentre is in denial or unwilling to take responsibility and face up to the true scale of its problems.
  3. Be visible. It’s tempting to hide when things are going wrong but it’s a massive mistake to stay out of the media spotlight.  Right now, who doesn’t want to speak to Mark Zuckerberg? He should be using this admittedly uncomfortable attention for vital damage limitation.  After all, it’s his (highly-paid) job to face the music, it’s his responsibility to answer to customers, investors and staff.

How sports bodies should respond to Bradley Wiggins drug abuse allegations

Sport is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons as professional cycling gets its head around the conclusion by MPs that Sir Bradley Wiggins abused drugs to enhance his performance. Clearly it’s a distressing and frustrating moment for all clean athletes and their representatives. So much more than individual reputations is at stake: trust in whole sports, sporting associations and federations, agents and competitions is vulnerable, not to mention commercial interests such as sponsorship deals.

So now is a vital moment for all sports to grab the opportunity to present a positive narrative about their values, ethics and standards.

Here are five top tips for being prepared for a media onslaught and influencing/turning a damaging media narrative that threatens reputation:

1. Prepare

An organisation can only build resilience if it understands its vulnerabilities, be they human (rogue staff), technological (data loss/hacking), financial (insufficient income) etc.   Face your worst case scenarios.  Ask the question “What if…?” and work out your strategy for responding.

2. Consider contagion

One unfortunate consequence of any organisation under scrutiny by the media, is that others in the sector/industry become more vulnerable. When a story takes off, journalists cast their net more widely, for example the Oxfam scandal inevitably widened to all NGO’s coming under greater scrutiny and the Weinstein scandal has prompted accusations and investigations well beyond Hollywood. Every story like this should prompt your organisation to review its activities and media strategy.

3. Understand the broadcast media

It’s amazing how many organisations don’t understand the broadcast media, which has quite different needs, timings and content to the press.   Boost the knowledge and operational capability of your press and communications staff with a team session on media handling skills.

4. Make sure your spokespeople are trained

In a media storm, the person or people who are the face of your organisation are your best asset.  Getting your messages across and being able to project confidence, reassurance, credibility and empathy under the onslaught of a rampant media takes skill.  The good news is, these skills can be acquired with journalist-led media training.

5. Communicate quickly

Time really is of the essence when the media comes calling.  Often organisations struggle to respond and quickly become overwhelmed because they have no strategy in place.  Every press office should have a rapid response plan and a crisis response team.  If something goes wrong, or is alleged, don’t let hours tick by before you start to communicate – these hours will be filled by your critics.  Have your messages and your spokespeople ready for action, so you can get ahead of the story via press statements, interviews and social media.

Will Oxfam survive its #MeToo crisis?

As the shockwaves of Oxfam’s sexual misconduct scandal continue to reverberate painfully throughout the NGO sector and beyond, the charity’s very survival is in doubt.  This horrifying story is a brutal wake-up call.  Even an organisation built on more than seven decades of inspiring, selfless work by employees, volunteers and supporters can see its reputation quickly trashed when its response to a crisis is botched.

Could anyone have imagined that the words ‘betrayal’, ‘sexual exploitation’, ‘lies’ and ‘cover-up’ would be used to describe a charity such as Oxfam?  I’m afraid the answer is yes.  This is the job of journalist media trainers.  We (very easily) imagine the worst PR nightmares of all kinds of organisations and prepare them to withstand the inevitable tsunami of media scrutiny.

It’s clear that no charity can afford to be complacent.  Third sector organisations are just as much at risk as any bank, political party or corporate behemoth that doesn’t invest in crisis planning, including crisis media trainin for its communications team and spokespeople.  Sadly, every charity will be tainted by the Oxfam tragedy, so every charity should now be asking “What if?” questions about their vulnerability to crises and taking steps immediately to stress-test their responses.   I’ve trained third sector and public-sector leadership teams for scenarios such as:

  • Criticism from beneficiaries, high-profile individuals, whistle-blowers
  • Social media backlash
  • Accidental data loss
  • Hacking or other sabotage
  • Terror attack/activity
  • Accidents affecting staff or customers
  • Industry issues/news stories creating unwelcome media attention

According to the PwC 2018 Global CEO survey, business leaders believe over-regulation is the most serious threat to their organisations, followed by terrorism, geo-political uncertainty and cyber threats, with terrorism moving from 12th place to 2nd place since the 2017 survey.  We can confidently assume that sexual misconduct will be high on that list in next year’s survey.  Whether Oxfam will survive its #MeToo crisis is much harder to predict.

Steering stories – what we can learn from Formula One

Formula One has played a PR blinder by skilfully steering the story preoccupying critics and fans alike.  In the wake of coverage of the notorious Presidents Club, attention has inevitably turned to other industries, as journalists develop the story.  Liberty Media, which owns the rights to Formula One, has handled the situation with aplomb, recognising that many view ‘grid girls’ as outmoded, undignified, even offensive and announcing that it was “at odds with societal norms”.  It also recognised that some fans, including many ‘grid girls’, would disagree with the decision to dispense with the practice of employing “glamorous” women to stand prettily next to cars, while male racing drivers, male motorsports engineers and mostly male F1 team bosses went about their multi-billion pound business.

Liberty Media and the sport’s governing body, the FIA, were correct – coverage of the controversial decision was mixed.  While some applauded the move, other high profile voices were damning (Naomi Campbell: “they’re representing their country”;  Bernie Ecclestone: “sponsors wanted to see the people that represented them very smartly dressed, which is what they did”).   Opinion pieces lamented the triumph of political correctness and ‘grid girls’ gave interviews pointing out that they loved their job and nobody bothered to consult them before taking away their livelihood.

In crisis media training brands learn the best strategies for limiting negative coverage, including getting ahead of the story and steering the narrative before it becomes a crisis.  The announcement that ‘grid kids’ will replace ‘grid girls’ from the start of the F1 season is a classic example of how to do this.  It effectively:

  • moves the story on with a ‘better’ one
  • captures the attention of the media and its other audiences (fans, sponsors, F1 teams and their staff, other motorsports and other sports)
  • promotes F1 motorsport as providing opportunity for talented young drivers and future stars

Importantly, it also creates plenty of future opportunities for positive media coverage, such as:

  • F1 debuts ‘grid kids’
  • Profile of a ‘grid kid’ destined for future F1 stardom
  • Day in the life of a ‘grid kid’
  • Female ‘grid kids’
  • Child wins competition to be ‘grid kid’ for a day
  • ‘Grid kid’ meets his/her hero driver
  • Former ‘grid kid’ becomes F1 driver
  • Former ‘grid kid’ wins championship
  • Celebrity ‘grid kid’
  • Driver and ‘grid kid’ father/son team
  • Team offers ‘grid kid’ experience to deprived communities/sick children

Five top tips for steering the media narrative:

  1. Get ahead of the story. Respond quickly, correct misinformation, provide accurate facts
  2. Become part of the narrative. Give your side of the story to journalists and deploy consistent messaging across all your own channels (website, social media)
  3. Brainstorm where the story might go and prepare messaging and spokespeople
  4. Develop ‘better’ stories (a journalist will ALWAYS go with a better story) and tailor them for specific media outlets
  5. Ensure your spokespeople are trained to confidently get your story across in planned and unplanned (doorstep) interviews.