How to avoid your own Pratt-gate

Posted on 22/02/2010


I feel sorry for Christine Pratt from the National Bullying Helpline.

Every time she has appeared on TV today, she seems to be spinning a different line and unsure of her own organisation’s status.

But let’s hope this episode is a learning for other charities.

What seemed like such a good idea on a Sunday afternoon to send out an ‘issue hijack’ (interestingly it’s now been removed from NBH’s website) was presumably conceived without the organisation having taken any advice from a public relations professional.

And sadly this lack of advice and readiness to deal with the media, could be curtains for the charity – with patron’s resigning and the media crawling all over its history and accounts.

Yet, it could have all been so different.  With adequate planning, this could have massively boosted the charity’s profile and the fight against bullying.

As I see it, before embarking on a PR campaign during the volatile pre-election period a charity needs the following:

1) Clear messaging on what you are saying in the media and a clear point to make.

2) A clear set of defensive lines anticipating all angles of attack not just on your particular viewpoint, but on institutional funding and history.

3) A clear process for approving and handling media enquiries.

4) On ‘big story’ days, a collective of media trained spokespeople ready to send out consistent messaging (with prior warning of the story sent to key partners).

5) And if it goes wrong, a confidence that these spokespeople will stay calm and not change the story based on an email to their blackberry!

All of these golden rules have been broken in the NBH case. Which given the amount of PR agencies ready to offer pro-bono help to small charities (either through the Media Trust or independently) is inexcusable.

The sad fact is that now bullying has turned from a cause everyone is prepared to support to, at best, a political football and, at worst, a joke.