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Good crisis management means keeping no secrets

July 28, 2014 by Alex Johnson

Secret Cinema, the immersive film experiences company, learnt some tough reputation management lessons last week. Hours before the opening night of its special screening in east London of 80s’ classic ‘Back To The Future’, guests were informed (via its Facebook page) that the event would not go ahead. Its 200,000 plus Facebook followers and 55,000 Twitter feed subscribers reacted with a mixture of shock, disbelief and anger. Secret Cinema’s issues management approach has been heavily criticised – but what went wrong and what can others learn from the situation?

  • Chose the medium you use to connect with stakeholders carefully – Social media is a hugely effective way of communicating with large numbers of people at short notice but the crucial factor here was that guests attending the event had been asked to leave mobile devices at home (in order to keep the event secret for those still to attend). As a result, many who had made long journeys arrived at the venue unaware of the cancellation.

  • Plan for the worst case scenario – Internet chatter suggested the preview night (less than 24 hours earlier) had also been cancelled. If this was the case, it would have been wise for Secret Cinema to alert opening night guests to the fact there were problems sooner rather than later.

  • Give as much information as you can – In a crisis people want facts. Rather than saying ‘unavoidable circumstances’ have prevented the show from taking place, Secret Cinema should have ben clear about what they were. Instead, its vague justification left fans feeling cheated and that information was being withheld.

  • Stick to your promises – This was the most critical error Secret Cinema made. In its first statement it promised to release further information at 11am the next day (regarding that evening’s event). The full statement, cancelling this subsequent show, did not appear until 3pm. When your reputation is on the line, say what you are planning to do and stick to it.

Situations like these reiterate the importance of crisis management planning and risk assessments. Even with the best intentions things can go wrong and when they do, you need to know how your organisation will respond in order to keep stakeholders informed and minimise reputational damage. I don’t doubt Secret Cinema’s intentions of working ‘tirelessly to get this show running’ but for those that spent time and money getting to the event it may be a while before they trust their words again.

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