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Infinite Global: The CBI scandal - crisis comms. lessons

Infinite Global in their second of a two-part blog series examined the communications and reputational challenges faced by business lobby group, the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI), and the takeaways for organisations dealing with public criticism from former employees and leaders.

From an internal communications perspective, perhaps the biggest challenge for the CBI from the outset was that misconduct allegations were being levied against the CEO, as well as other senior staff members.

When the alleged wrongdoer is a senior figurehead, the company may struggle to act quickly and decisively, and to show that internal investigations are free from internal bias or influence. An internal investigator may feel unable to investigate their superiors without fear of repercussions – or may simply be perceived externally or internally as lacking independence (regardless of the rigour of their investigation).

This is at least one of the reasons for an external specialist, such as a law firm, to conduct the investigation independently. In the CBI’s case, Fox Williams was brought in to ensure that the process was free from bias (real or perceived), and that the investigator was seen to be acting fairly and objectively.

Key to any strong communications strategy – which very much includes communications around HR procedures and safeguarding – is cohesive and timely messaging, and values which align with your employees. Just as handling these issues effectively enhances reputation; so too can a poor response be deeply damaging. HR cannot exist in a hushed microcosm, independent from the rest of an organisation.

Regardless of how closely the CBI eventually came to adhere to the playbook, it arguably made missteps at every turn. The CBI lost the ‘high ground’ from the moment The Guardian released its exposé. Far from having action plans and statements in place, in anticipation of the inevitable backlash once the investigation went public, the CBI failed to step out hard and fast, and to seize the initiative.

To read more of the detail, including what makes an effective crisis response, click on this link.




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