The poor woman – you could almost feel sorry for her. As a piece of crisis management, pretty well anything that could go wrong, did. Under the fierce glow of Anne Robinson’s Watchdog studio lights, live on prime time BBC1 last night, it was Eileen Downey’s job to defend the reputation of Pontins, the holiday camps operator, after a comprehensive hatchet-job by the programme which demonstrated multiple examples of mouldy fitments, bloodstained bedsheets and filthy and torn carpets in the chalets – you get the picture. Ms Downey, though, wasn’t about to apologise and offer to recompense/send flowers to dissatisfied customers – oh no. She was made of stronger stuff – she went on the attack. Grim-faced, she accused the programme of being ‘premature’, as the Britannia Hotels group had only bought Pontins out of administration six months ago, (which was better than making all the workforce unemployed, she pointed out) and was in the middle of a big programme of refurbishment, and that inevitably 99% of customers hadn’t complained. The equally grim-faced Ms Robinson cut off the interview after one and a half minutes as she could see she wasn’t getting anywhere.
There is a big difference between ‘un-refurbished’ and ‘filthy’, however, and even the sight-impaired viewer with thick, dirty specs could see that. If you ever find yourself in this sort of ghastly situation, the key is to try as hard as humanly possible to come over as reasonable and sympathetic rather than aggressive. Apologise, and see it as an opportunity to explain how hard you are working to put things right. In short, Ms Downey needed good media training, big-time – the same of course applies to anyone else who may suddenly speak on their company’s behalf on a tricky issue; if you wait for the crisis to happen it’s too late. The encounter is currently on view on Youtube – poorish quality but worth watching; the studio part comes at the end. Look but don’t copy.