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Cricket Australia threw its ‘players to the wolves’ and should have owned up to cheating: crisis comms panel

Cricket Australia needed to respond faster to the ball-tampering scandal involving players Dave Warner, Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft and shouldn’t have thrown its “players to the wolves”, the audience at Mumbrella360 has heard.

On the crisis communications panel, Sefiani Communications Group founder and managing director Robyn Sefiani noted cricket fans deserved and expected an explanation of what had actually happened and an outline of what was going to happen next.

Mumbrella360’s crisis communications panelists: Robyn Sefiani, David Breen, Brian Shrowder and Dr Neryl East

“James Sutherland [the CEO of Cricket Australia] took his time to get over to South Africa,” she said.

“The CEO did not come out assertively enough at the beginning, he didn’t use the word ‘cheating’ and that was his biggest downfall, he talks about ‘ball tampering’ but come on, they were cheating to get an unfair advantage in the game, so that was the biggest problem.”

Outlining one thing she would have changed up front had she had been involved in Cricket Australia’s crisis communications team, Sefiani said it would have been to call out the cheating.

David Breen, the head of corporate affairs at ING Australia agreed with Sefiani, reminiscing about his shock at how quickly the players were thrown into a press conference.

“The players were thrown to the wolves unnecessarily,” Breen added, arguing the players should have been much more protected by Cricket Australia throughout the cheating scandal.

“I recall being shocked at how quickly they put the players in a mass press conference and those players were totally unprepared, some of those players were guilty, some were not and they were free wheeling, if you remember Smith, he was saying anything that came into his head at one point and I was thinking this is going to end very badly.

“I thought that was totally unnecessary, but in terms of speed, yes the CEO should have been out there and should have been drawing a line in the sand, but they should have been far more considered and protective of the players in my view.”

The director of Neryl East Communications, Dr Neryl East, said Cricket Australia made the whole ordeal worse by putting forward the wrong spokesperson, warning companies going through a crisis to be careful when deciding “who does the talking”.

“It is that upfront response and this is part of pre-preparing… at least have some game plan in mind and really think through who you put up [to speak] and that is a decision you need to make before a crisis breaks out whatever the circumstances are.

“The wrong spokesperson sends a message, if they are ill prepared then they just make it worse and in my view they did in this case,” East added.

ING Australia’s Breen highlighted language as crucial for any brand, person or business embroiled in a crisis.

Drawing on Roseanne Barr’s recent racist slurs on Twitter – where she later blamed the sleeping tablet Ambient for her outburst – Breen said the brand acted appropriately in a fast and considered manner.

“The case study of Ambien is a great case study to really understand because they acted so quickly but it was so considered… Roseanne Barr is obviously a very big name in the States…  so to take on a big Hollywood celebrity on the rise [after a number of years out of television] is something that you do with a bit of consideration. But in this case she crossed the line and [Ambien] obviously decided that [it wasn’t] going to let [its] brand be used as a defence and came up with that clever line,” he said, in reference to the pharmaceutical company issuing a statement which said: “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

“Language is really important in a crisis, if you get the language right that can be 30 to 40% of the behaviour that really really works,” Breen said.

Sefiani said brands do however have to be “really careful” with language because it can work against you.

She used the example of when BP chief executive at the time, Tony Hayward,  said “I just want my life back” after the oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico.

“It is that judgement call again, what is appropriate and what isn’t,” Sefiani said. “You have got to be really cautious of saying ‘poor me’ when your organisation has actually caused the crisis in the first place.”

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