There has been a huge amount of discussion about the row between the BBC and Gary Lineker, so I have been watching and considering what we can unpick from this situation. The subject of the discussion is extremely sensitive and people have strong views both for and against the Government’s proposed policy. I am not going to get into that discussion as there is still a lot that will be said about that in the days and weeks ahead. But what can we learn as PR and communication professionals?
The first thing is that this may be labelled as a ‘pr crisis’ but for me it is not. This is about a lack of understanding about policies and a personal decision to take a course of action. If we unpick it this was a problem before any communication of it took place. It is one of my big frustrations that we accept the label ‘pr crisis’ for situations where organisations and others have failed.
If we move past that I see three big issues for the BBC that remind us why we need to plan and prepare for the worst.
- This problem could have been foreseen. Gary Lineker has a history of tweets about his personal opinion of political and other situations. In 2018 it was about Brexit, and in 2022 it was about Tory Party donations, for which a complaint was upheld by the BBC. He also made comments at the start of the Qatar World Cup. So, if these issues had already occurred then there was an opportunity to get ahead of any future issue. This could have been reaching an agreement with Mr Lineker or working through what would happen if a future breach occurred. After every issue or crisis there has to be a moment of learning for every organisation.
- Social media policies are complex things and need very careful thought. Gone are the days of saying no employee is allowed to post about personal views or work. It is, and will be, happening all the time and organisations need to catch up with their employees, particularly those starting work who have spent their lives on social media. Silencing people reflects badly on organisations particularly in a world of conspiracy theories and distrust of authority. Instead, look at a sensible position that provides guidelines that allow some opportunity to speak and provide clear rationale for why the approach is taken.
- Any new policy or procedure introduced into an organisation needs to be stress tested. Consider what the worst situation may be and plan what you will do. Scenario planning is not just for situations and should be turned to any significant business changes. In this way the BBC could have reviewed how it would deal with a social media transgression before it played out in full view of the public.
The above are all reminders to every organisation that it needs to learn from past events, be prepared for reputational problems that may emerge, and to take a long hard look at how it manages social media. All businesses need to plan and prepare for reputational crises. The aftermath of the Gary Lineker disagreement must be understood by the BBC and I would urge them to take steps to avoid another problem like this in the future.