Define a PR crisis for your organization....
For 'Dubai inc', it could be defined as causing major money markets to fall, having international media 'ridicule' fiscal policy/investments or having your ruler cartooned as drowning in a sea of debt on the front page of perhaps one the world's most respected newspapers.
Such is the past 10 days for Dubai.
What happened and what can we learn from this?
I think it went down something like this.... Picture a boardroom 50 stories high with all glass windows, over looking sun, sand, the beautiful crystal clear coast and major development including infrastructure that will soon be appearing in the Guinness Book of Records. Imagine the smell of coffee, and the obligatory three facial tissue boxes on the large, modern board room table, surrounded by black, ergonomic, modern mesh chairs.
Someone mentions in passing that there is a loan for something like $3.5-billion that needs to be paid by next month, but it's questionable whether money is in the right place to make that happen. "No problem," someone says, "everyone wants a piece of Dubai, we'll just ask our debtors to hold out for another 30 days". Someone more senior replies, "Interesting idea, but seeing as we're asking for 30 days, lets just ask for 6 months - I mean, why not?". Several nods of heads, because that's what you do when someone more senior suggests something.
A couple of faces look to the person who has to think about publicity. "No problem here. Next week is Eid so we'll all be taking it easy for a week and isn't the U.S. celebrating something along the lines of Thanks Giving so Wall Street will be closing early? We'll sent out a note to a couple of the media who always write exactly what we ask them, most media outlets will be on vacation - no one will remember a thing".
Nice idea... except... while that might of worked 2 or 3 years ago, in the dusk of 2009 there have been changes that have even permeated as far as Dubai...
1 - Media is less of a puppet. Days are gone when they simply 'cut and paste' from a release just because it comes from someone important. Many reasons for this - all of them good.
2 - Media never sleeps. Social media resonates 24/7 and the more advanced media groups have reorganized so they can work cross-globe 24/7, irrespective of cultural holidays.
3 - Never, ever, ever create a media vacuum. It's PR101, but if you do not provide the facts and all the facts to the media in a timely manner, the media will get the facts from somewhere else. That somewhere may be less than gracious. That somewhere may include so called experts that known nothing about what they talk. That somewhere might have a grudge to bare. In short - not good.
4 - It all comes out in the wash. Organizations that play it less than 100% clean risk dirty washing falling out of the hamper every now and again... and in tough financial times it can be like someone turned the hamper upside-down. Was always this way, but today's ultra-connected and social society means that no one is exempt and news travels fast.
The lessons are pretty simple really. It's not rocket science and someone should of seen this coming. Maybe they need a new PR agency...