06 Apr Howzat!? What we can learn from the cricket crisis
Whether you’re a cricket fan or not, the sport has dominated conversations and column inches over the last few weeks. Regardless of your personal view on the issue or the fallout, it’s been a fascinating study in the execution of crisis communications.
The Australian public expected the cricket team to behave in a certain way, and when they didn’t, there was disappointment from all corners of the country – from the PM, to a kid hitting a cricket ball in the backyard.
Whether or not this level of expectation was disproportionate for the issue is a question for another day. However, what it did mean is that any response had to reflect these expectations, and address the issues that the Australian public most cared about.
From a communications perspective – what went well and what didn’t?
Manage the issue. The first mistake was allowing Smith and Bancroft to engage the media so quickly that day without all the facts being collected and responses prepared and rehearsed. There is always pressure to be responsive to a crisis but responding early when you are not adequately prepared is risky.
Understand the expectations of your audiences. The cricketer’s responses to questions in the first press conference demonstrated a naive understanding of the implications and the worldwide reaction to the cheating incident. Cricket Australia ideally should have delayed a formal response to the charges until after the completion of the test match, allowing the facts and response to be prepared, with time to actively plan what needed to be said, by whom.
Empathy and acknowledgement of the issue are critical. Smith was able to address this in his Australian press conference, which was authentic, emotional and addressed the questions Australia had of him. Warner was emotional in his own way, but was more scripted and staged, meaning he came across as less authentic. His unwillingness to answer questions further impacted the perception of honesty. On face value, two similar press conferences created very different perception for the players.
Communication (by the right person) is important, even if all the details can’t be shared. Often, the default position is to not say anything until there is ‘something’ to say – the facts, the details, a suitable answer. However, explaining what you do know, sharing what you can say, or acknowledging the challenges to being able to share more can build goodwill. Warner did not do this in his press conference, but after the fact, and through Twitter – which begs the question, why didn’t he just say that during the interview?
The right preparation is key. Warner’s press conference seemed to be a situation where text book comms theory was badly executed. Preparation was done, but perhaps the wrong preparation – rather than having an authentic answer to questions that were always going to be asked, key messages were repeated in a way that seemed defensive and deflective.
The consequences to the three players, the coach, sponsors, Cricket Australia, the sport and fans is enormous. We can’t help but consider whether the outcomes would have been any different if the communications had been better managed from the first day.