Ever wondered what the Aussie cricket ball-tampering crisis has for comms? A stack of lessons
by James Morton
It probably says a lot about cricket's esoteric appeal that the biggest scandal engulfing it for years has been ignited by someone stuffing a piece of sandpaper down his pants (I know, ouch).
For those not au fait with the sport’s unique charms, the Australian cricket team has essentially 'fessed up to cheating in their most recent Test match by tampering with the ball, using the sandpaper.
It has caused unprecedented uproar, not only Down Under but across the sporting world. It has also been an utterly fascinating spectacle to observe from a comms perspective.
Rarely can accusations of naughtiness and misbehaviour have been so quickly confessed and in such unedifying technicolour.
No sooner had allegations been made, than Steve Smith, the Australian captain, and Cameron Bancroft, the man with the sandpaper, were plonked in front of the TV cameras, where they spouted chapter and verse on the affair. Who, how, when, why – little went unsaid during a remarkable press conference.
In an age of fake news and Trumpese, this 'ultra-honesty' response was breathtaking in its speed and the pure, unfiltered level of detail.
Sporting interviews and press conferences are infamous for endless clichés and a depressing lack of candour.
So, on one hand, the disarming level of disclosure and amount of detail was admirable. On the other, the startling lack of crisis comms savvy whacked you in the face like a 90mph bouncer.
- Don’t rush there – OK, TV pictures proved fairly damning, but rarely has it paid off to rush to comment when the adrenaline is coursing.
Would an acknowledging statement, with more detail to follow, have allowed them time to consider their approach and position?
The panicking pair didn’t even seem sure of their story themselves – a surefire sign of a lack of preparation and consideration of what was being said.
- Wheel out the big guns - The most staggering and indefensible part of the strategy (or lack of) was the decision to wheel out Bancroft, the most junior member of the Aussie team, to deal with the fallout - the equivalent of a CEO sending out the office intern to face the music as his company collapses.
Crisis Comms 101 states get your leaders out there ASAP. In this case, that would have been the Australian coach but he (to date) has been notably inconspicuous. While captain Smith showed willing to take some responsibility, he also started to implicate other members of a “leadership group”. Which brings us nicely on to…
- What about your staff and stakeholders? – Arguably the biggest impact of the lack of strategy has been the collateral damage caused to anyone connected to the Aussie team – including the Australian public.
The lack of consideration for the gravity of their revelations now seems crass in the extreme. Other members of the Aussie team are said to be appalled by being dragged into the scandal, while there is national outrage at how it reflects on the country and population as a whole.
So, what was the thinking behind the ‘ultra-honesty’ strategy? Get your response in first? Avoid trial by Twitter? They might have hoped that by being so quick to confess all, the story would fizzle out and bank them some credit.
Hmmm. Within hours, the Australian Prime Minister was vehemently denouncing the team and appreciative nods for their botched bid for integrity have been starkly absent.
Openness and honesty, particularly when dealing with crises, are paramount. But so too is a sound crisis comms approach.
No comms team wants to get caught with its pants down.
News just in… Smith has been charged by Cricket Australia with making “misleading public comments regarding the nature, extent and participants of the plan”. Almost like he could have done with some comms advice, you might say.
James Morton is External Communications Manager at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service and Chair of national fire service comms network, FirePRO