Avoiding a ‘Ratner Moment’

Two lessons from the recent row surrounding London’s leading minicab firm, Addison Lee, which is now being held up by Marketing Week as an example of bad crisis management.  Its boss John Griffin claims he loves to stir it up and cause controversy, but he may have got more than he bargained for after what was described by some as a ‘Ratner moment’ when he appeared (to some at least) to suggest that if cyclists die in road accidents it’s their own fault.  Fighting on two fronts on behalf of his 3,500-strong fleet of drivers he also took on Transport for London, instructing his drivers to break the law by using bus lanes – and was duly rewarded with a High Court injunction.  Many companies took to Twitter to say that  they would cancel contracts with Addison Lee, it has been told a government contract won’t be renewed, and 250 cyclists staged a ‘die-in’ demonstration outside its offices.  Mr Griffin has since worked hard to try and build bridges with the bikers, saying he was misunderstood.

in-house magazine were confusingly-written and wide open to misinterpretation.  This  enabled the cyclists’ lobby, his sworn enemies, to whip up a twitterstorm of protest by making his comments sound even more insensitive than they had in fact been, and this was picked up and amplified by newspapers and radio. (“Campaigners and politicians are calling for a boycott of the UK’s biggest minicab firm..” etc) So if you are going to make controversial comments, think very carefully about your wording, and make them extremely clear so they cannot be misrepresented and exaggerated by your opponents. 

.. a good reason why companies have to take Twitter very seriously
Second lesson: this was another example of the power of something which has trended on twitter to grab the journalist’s attention and give a small story a lot more traction. This infographic produced by a PR agency suggests that Twitter is the most important social media tool used by journalists researching stories. It perhaps overstates the influence of tweets on the news agenda, but is nonetheless interesting, and a good reason why companies have to take Twitter very seriously.