How to defuse a crisis at a Gulf-based telco? Tell the journalist there’s no story.

I love talking to journalists. They’re often witty, sometimes charming. One thing that journalists have an abundance of are stories and anecdotes. I’ve dealt with one Gulf-based telecommunications firm for a couple of reasons of late, and it’s a fascinating company due to internal issues and ambitions. However, this firm has faced accusations of poor customer service in its home market. Consumer anger recently came to a head with calls for a symbolic, hour-long boycott of the company’s products and services.

I’m not going to name the firm, but if you do a search on Google you won’t have to search long and hard for the story or its context.

While this in itself is an interesting development, the mark of a good communications team will be able to step in, work with journalists and bring out the positive of any negative story. This didn’t happen to one journalist colleague who inquired about the boycott. An experienced reporter on a global title, she emailed a PR executive at a public relations firm representing the telco asking about the boycott.

The response was abysmal. Rather than talking through the issue, explain the company’s attempts to improve its customer service and put right the company’s standing amongst its customers the PR executive pulled his face and told the journalist there was no story.

Telling a journalist those three words – there’s no story – is akin to holding up a red rag to a bull. Following on from this faux pas the executive then started to vent his belief (off the record) that the competition was behind the boycott.
Needless to say, despite his best efforts he failed to put over to the journalist anything remotely useful that would have conveyed how much his client were investing in time and money into their customer service.

What happened? An article in a global business title which prominently featured comments from those spearheading the boycott and a single quote from the company in question. That story was syndicated both regionally and globally. This company has operations in 17 countries and ambitions to operate telecommunications networks in many more locations.

The damage done to the firm’s reputation can’t be measured. However, there’s always time to put right what has been done. Get in touch with the journalist, show them that the company cares, that it aims to redouble its efforts. Even if the journalist doesn’t write a follow-up story you’ve left a positive impression.

To date has there been any follow-up? Unfortunately not. But then again, who needs good communications and media outreach when you’re a government-owned firm with a sizable marketing budget and only one competitor in your home market? Do you really want to have a frank and open dialogue with the media and your customers? Or are you happy with being subjected to boycott campaigns simply because you don’t want to listen and you think there’s no story? How you defuse the situation is your choice.