Back of the net: When Sand Martins cause a crisis

Over in Norfolk last week all anyone has been talking about is a little bird in Bacton. Another migratory bird (Jonathan) Swift said that a lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on; this week a Sand Martin could fly around the world before the council could remove its netting. In images that have been shared across social media a hapless Sand Martin was unable to access its nest due to the presence of netting designed to protect the cliff face from erosion. A testament to the changing priorities of the media this story has been replicated in national, regional and local press all week. Where before it may have led to some embarrassment to the local authority and a ticking off from the RSPB, it has now gone viral.

The nature of the news has changed. Today overworked journalists have to think as much about Search Engine Optimisation and ad-revenue as they do about the public interest. When the driving force of how stories will be picked up is partly in their shareability and good visuals stories such as Sand Martins become gold dust. The strong ecological angle bringing in ethical Gen Zs and Millennials brings an added soupçon of interest to editors.

But how do businesses or consultants respond to this shift? Over at PLMR we suggest that the best defence against being caught out by a crisis is to plan and prepare for every eventuality. This transforms crisis planning, into risk mitigation. But how do you plan for the unplannable? Now everyone with a phone and a Twitter account is an amateur journalist, how do you prepare when the story breaks online?

The truth is you can can’t. When putting together draft responses and emergency protocols we invite clients to consider the worst and wildest things that can happen. But there are limits. Instead our advice would be the same as for any crisis; respond quickly, regret and acknowledge the issue, and move to solve it. From nesting birds to the more predictable crisis this formula works and will help protect or even enhance your reputation.

As the nature of the news media and news agenda continues to change the need for robust crisis communication procedures has become even more vital. For advice on how to respond to a crisis don’t hesitate to contact, simon.darby@plmr.co.uk

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