Countdown makes crisis communication mistakes

13 February 2014
Its failure to front up on TV in the first few hours after the claims made against it by Shane Jones under parliamentary privilege yesterday could hurt Progressive Enterprises. CountdownThis situation is the type of worst nightmare our media training and crisis communication clients describe when we ask them their reason for attending our courses. Progressive (owners of Countdown) have done a number of things correctly when it comes to crisis communication. They got a statement out reasonably quickly. Their spokesperson on Campbell Live tonight also looked reasonably competent (although not by any means perfect). But they made the oldest mistake in the book. They weren’t prepared to front-foot this issue as soon as it occurred. If they had an effective crisis communication plan, they would have had a statement pretty much ready to go at a moment’s notice and a trained spokesperson who could front up within an hour of the Jones comments. While the spokesperson did OK tonight, it was 24 hours too late. With an issue as serious as this, you need to be ready for interviews when the first stories are produced by media. That was last night. If the spokesperson was on all the major TV networks last night with his denial, there would have been far less backlash today. But because the only quotes came from “a statement on the company website”, Progressive got hardly any coverage, while all the negative sources nominated the headlines. As we tell our media training clients, by waiting 24 hours, your comments are no longer forming opinions among customers. You now have to change their minds. This is a far harder task. You only needed to look at social media today to see what views people had already formed. This is another example of why media training for a spokesperson and crisis communication planning are so vital for businesses. Unfortunately, most business executives and owners never think media scrutiny and public backlashes will ever come their way.  But if, or when they do, it’s too late. For more on our media training or presentation training, contact

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Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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