Thursday, 12 August 2010

I recently discovered the joy that is BBC's 'The Thick Of It'; fly on the wall style documentary that follows the 'fictional' Government department of social affairs and citizenship (SAC). Jumping from one crisis to another in each episode, the realism of the programme leaves you feeling like you are really seeing the inner workings of the various Governmental departments.

Malcolm Tucker, believed to be based upon spin king Alastair Campbell, is a pure legend. Harsh talking, toy throwing, fear inducing Director of Comms acting as the PM's enforcer and crisis manager who takes no prisoners. The way that he handles each new and even more fantastical PR problem that his ministers seem to wander into on an almost masochistic basis is something truly to behold. Bluffing on what facts he has and bending the truth at his whim, Malcolm manages to get the 'Government' out of sticky situations too often to count.

He may be a fictional character, but the acting is so superb and the scripting so believable, you feel that you are really seeing the inner workings of our minsters' offices.

Having been on a crisis management training session today, I was well and truly in the mood to watch more of this series as after all, it can't get any worse than what happens in the episodes... can it? Whereas 'The Thick Of It' seems to show the PR team just getting through by the skin of their teeth, in the real world, forward planning is crucial in trying to nip potential reputation disasters in the bud, before anything even happens.

Sure, it would be great if we could all look into a crystal ball and foresee every eventuality that our clients could encounter - be it the result of an irresponsible comment (see Gerald Ratner and Topman's David Shepherd - or a product fault, national disaster or other unfortunate eventuality.

Alas, such a useful instrument has not been invented so we are left with the need to imagine the worst case scenario and plan the steps needed to be taken should it ever become a reality.
This kind of 'expect the unexpected' ethos is central to today's society, where negative press often seems to be the only press and where companies can be held accountable for almost anything, regardless as to how tenuous the link may be. And as PR professionals, we are the ones with whom the buck often stops so they only way to ensure we aren't on the back foot before we begin is to scope out the potential pitfalls and, as ever, keep our fingers firmly on the pulse. After all, prevention is always better than cure.