It seems like every other day in this election campaign that a candidate has made a gaffe. There’s a suspicion amongst the public that we’ve hit a bad patch, politically. That it’s a strangely inept group of characters that have found their way toward the levers of power.

But the reality is that this isn’t peculiar. It isn’t an aberration. It’s the future. In the age of social media and citizen journalism, we’ll be ‘uncovering’ a lot more scandals and gaffes.

Ever since public opinion mattered, there have been people whose job it is to uncover political dirt in the opposition camp. The difference is that in the age of social media, the ability to hide that dirt has become a formidable task.

Political parties pay good money to wipe out the digital footprint of candidates they think are a chance to  win, but as we just saw with the case of Luke Creasey – Labor hopeful in the seat of Melbourne – whoever was charged with cleaning his social media profile didn’t do a particularly good job. Or perhaps it was an impossible task – after all, internet content is owned not just by the creator or social media enterprise, it’s owned by the world once someone hits the ‘post’ button.

So what happens when you find yourself in hot water after someone in your organisation makes an inappropriate comment? What should you do when someone has gone rogue in your organisation?

Execute the plan

Hopefully you have an emergency plan for just such situations and have identified key figures within your organisation that will be able to start executing the plan. They might be people from legals, the media liaison unit, a public relations agency, or the CEO. Whoever it is, be ready to enact the plan you made earlier, in the cold light of day.

That plan should include the following.

Assemble the team

If you are in the same vicinity get into a room to discuss the situation. If you’re not able to do that, organise a conference call.

Quick assessment of the situation

Is the person involved senior within the organisation? Is the controversy serious or trivial? Will you need to engage legal advice? Is the situation so grave that postponing an announcement will damage brand reputation significantly?

Whatever the situation is you need to act fast and apportion tasks. There is likely to be some tension between the media department and legal department, but in brand management the court of public opinion is often more important than a court of law, so be prepared beforehand and know how you’ll communicate your response to events in certain scenarios.

Make a comment early

When your organisation is in the middle of a controversy, and that controversy has made its way into the public domain, speculation can grow like wildfire. The first thing you’ll want to do is cauterise the problem to stop it getting worse.

A media release should be sent out as soon as possible, ideally within half an hour of the news breaking. It should state that the organisation is aware of speculation around the event and is looking into the event and will make further comment later.

Any calls received by journalists should be dealt with politely and the position re-stated, which is that your organisation is investigating the issue and will make comment once that’s resolved.

When to make no comment

Never. Those two words give the distinct impression that you are holding out on the public or that you’re a cold, uncaring fish. That never goes down well.

Cool eye

Investigate the claim being made with honesty and detachment. It’s possible that the reports are wrong, exaggerated, or malicious.

It’s also possible that they are dead right and if they are, the first thing you need to do as an organisation is get your spokesperson to apologise on behalf of your organisation. An apology will make people more receptive to the words that follow.


If you are at fault and have not been able to determine what the appropriate remedy should be, state that you will be taking action soon to remedy the situation. If pressed on what that is, you can be honest and say you don’t want to compound the error by rushing into a decision and are discussing that matter and will communicate that decision in due course.

If the matter is a straightforward one and the remedy clear, for example a case of racial discrimination that is against both your business policy and the law of the land, you can state that your organisation repudiates such views unequivocally and offer something extra as a gesture of goodwill.


Interested in learning more about our Reputation Management Services?

Call us today on 1300 258 995 OR use our Contact Form.