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You will be hard-pressed to find a more ill-judged interview than that given by Oxfam Chief Executive Mark Goldring this weekend.
The boss poured more fuel on the crisis engulfing his organisation by claiming that the criticism it had received over the sex abuse scandal has been ‘out of proportion’ and suggesting the charity was being treated as if it had ‘murdered babies’.
The startling comments came in an interview in The Guardian on Saturday, just over a week after the story was first reported by The Times.
Oxfam boss Mark Goldring: ‘Anything we say is being manipulated. We’ve been savaged' https://t.co/MwLjymSU26— The Guardian (@guardian) February 16, 2018
In that time the charity’s handling of the crisis had been attracting growing criticism.
But this latest instalment is a case study in how not to manage a crisis.
First of all is the comment itself which has attracted a fresh wave of negative headlines.
Mr Goldring said: “The intensity and the ferocity of the attack makes you wonder, what did we do?
“We murdered babies in their cots? Certainly, the scale and the intensity of the attacks feels out of proportion to the level of culpability.
“I struggle to understand it. You think: ‘My God, there’s something going on there.’”
Yes, he actually said this.
He also added that everything the charity had said during the crisis had been ‘manipulated’ and added that the charity had been ‘savaged’ and that people are ‘gunning for Oxfam’.
Trying to deflect attention by detailing the horrendous things you haven’t done is a frankly bizarre approach to managing a crisis.
Presenting yourself as the victim and blaming the people who have expressed concern about the way your organisation has acted is not an approach others should follow.
Anyone who has ever managed a crisis media management incident will at some point have probably felt that the media coverage is unfair or questioned why it is getting so much coverage. I know I have in previous roles.
But these views should not be expressed externally.
A media interview during a crisis is no place to express sorrow for yourself or your organisation.
Mr Goldring’s interview brought painful memories of the way BP handled the Deepwater explosion in 2010. In what turned out to be a catalogue of errors which have gone down in crisis communication folklore, chief executive Tony Hayward famously said ‘I’d like my life back’ while chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said ‘we care about the small people’.
When an organisation finds itself in a crisis, its leaders need to show that they understand and appreciate the seriousness of the incident and any wrongdoing and are able to demonstrate compassion, authority and honesty.
Mr Goldring certainly comes across as being honest in this interview, but the unguarded approach he seems to have taken appears incredibly ill-judged.
Oxfam CEO Mark Goldring: “The intensity and the ferocity of the attack makes you wonder, what did we do? We murdered babies in their cots? Certainly, the scale and the intensity of the attacks feels out of proportion to the level of culpability". Genuine quote.— (((Dan Hodges))) (@DPJHodges) February 17, 2018
Dear Mark Goldring. You’re not the victim here. https://t.co/em4G6dpKv2— Jacqui Smith (@Jacqui_Smith1) February 17, 2018
There’s absolutely nothing Oxfam’s management could do from this point that could make things wor- pic.twitter.com/RF7YZCvdZK— Alan White (@aljwhite) February 17, 2018
If you look at Mr Goldring’s interview, there something else that stands-out in terms of crisis media management.
We are told that Mr Goldring took part in the interview ‘unchaperoned by press officers’. You may remember we have written before in this media training blog about whether press officers and comms advisers should always sit-in on media interviews.
But while we spoke about the benefits of both approaches, we made it clear that in crisis media management incidents we would always expect a press officer to be present during interviews, no matter how experienced the spokesperson may be.
At the end of what was the worst week in the charity's 76-year history, Mr Goldring's decision to take part in this interview on his own was very bold. And it is hard not to think that if a PR or comms person had been involved in this interview they may have been able to prevent him being so unguarded and careless with comments.
We are also told in the article that Mr Goldring came close to cancelling this interview because he was fretting that his words would be ‘wilfully twisted' to cause Oxfam yet more damage.
While he should be commended for opting not to run away, it is somewhat ironic that the words which came directly from his mouth during that same interview caused yet more reputational damage both to himself and his organisation.
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