I have written about the importance of honesty in PR previously. It’s a subject close to my heart having been asked on too many occasions to ‘spin’ or outwardly lie about a damaging issue.
Sadly, the reputation of PR being a dark art still exists in some quarters, as evidenced by the claims made by former South Yorkshire Police press officer, Hayley Court.
There was however a remarkably refreshing and honest approach to handling bad news this week by the boss of Manchester United’s security firm, Chris Reid.
Few will have missed the news of the postponement of Manchester United’s last game of the season due to a credible security threat. However, shortly after it became apparent that the threat was actually down to human error.
A dummy explosive device was left by Mr Reid at the ground following a security exercise and was not picked up by the club either.
What was impressive was the way in which Mr Reid swiftly responded to his error, taking full responsibility. Speaking outside his house the next morning he gave a full and frank explanation:
“This mistake is entirely mine. I have to take full responsibility for leaving a training item behind on Wednesday,” the retired Metropolitan police offer said.
“I am absolutely devastated that a lapse in my working protocols has resulted in many people being disappointed, frightened and inconvenienced. Nothing I can say will rectify that.
“Unfortunately, an item that was placed in the male WC was not recovered, as I had a similar item that I had not used. I saw this and made the mistake in thinking that the item in the WC had been brought back when found by the attendees as had other items I had checked into the bag.
“This item concerned was a mock-up of a pipe bomb, it was approximately eight inches long, brass fittings at each end, a length of black flexible lead and a mobile phone taped to the pipe with black tape.
‘The item had a small white label on it which said: “training aid if found contact SSMS [His firm] and my telephone number.”
I also liked that he added humour to his apology by telling reporters he was: “…fixing my roof while I've still got one.” Obviously humour doesn’t work in every situation and you have to be particularly careful when communicating internationally but, I think Mr Reid got away with it. At least from the public’s perspective.
The media moved on from this story after one day, largely because of his response. Although social media has continued to heap praise on him for his honest, open and humorous account of himself. I think as a country we’re quite willing to forgive honesty; it does after all make a refreshing change to the well-rehearsed political responses to straightforward questions that we have to endure all too often.
It remains to be seen what the outcome will be for Mr Reid and his relationship with the club but, I suspect he won’t have done long-term damage to his business because of his swift action and openness.
This comms approach was praised across Twitter, and Gareth Thomas, founder of London's Capella PR, told PRWeek UK: "I think the public might end up on his side." Thomas said Reid's comment that "they're just deciding which guillotine to use on me" was "a lot more interesting" and "human" than conventional corporate PR-speak. Thomas also praised ex-policeman Reid for having the "good sense" not to go beyond his own statement, and letting the police take the lead thereafter. "Two days ago, I thought his head was definitely for the chop, but I reckon some smart communicating means he might just get a stay of execution," Thomas said.