By Chris Gilmour

Quite often I’ll be called for crisis management PR advice and be left wondering, “Where’s the PR crisis?”

There’s a tendency for online outrage to manifest itself as headline news, for differences of opinion on what’s tasteful or politically correct to become perceived as a crisis management situation.

A lot of the time, it’s not a crisis – it’s just criticism or an alternative opinion.

The first question to ask when you have a PR crisis is: “Is it really a crisis?” In many cases, the answer is “no” and the worst thing that you could do would be to engage with it and make any comment.

This especially applies to situations where the press have confected outrage by spotting something they think might offend rent-a-gobs of whichever political persuasion, liberal or conservative.

Responding to criticism

By responding to such criticism, you both highlight it and give it a level of credibility that it doesn’t necessarily deserve.

The London Dungeon and Transport for London (TfL) found themselves in this position last week over a Tube advert for the tourist attraction. It posed the question, “Will Jack the Ripper strike again?” with the subheading “Scream and laugh your way through London’s darkest history”.

Women’s rights groups, politicians and broadcasters piled in, with one making the point that perhaps it’s time for “businesses to ask themselves if they really want to rely on a misogynist serial killer for their profits”.

That, I’d say, is a criticism, not a crisis – it’s outraged people voicing opinion to a journalist building a story, someone holding a modern light to a portrayal of dark events from history. But when those opinions have the oxygen of publicity, don’t strike a match.

Harm your customer relationship

There’s risk and reward to be taken into account before you decide to give opinions credence. Consider whether you are risking the approbation of your customers or people who will never be your customers. Will it harm your relationship with customers not to speak, if there’s no crisis management PR response?

Jack the Ripper has always been the bogeyman. The crimes were real, but the Ripper was a press creation. Even the name was bestowed on him by a journalist writing for a bloodthirsty Victorian newspaper.

And now there’s no distinction between the facts of the 130-year-old case and the comic book villain that he has become.

The murders have been written about and examined and re-examined so many times. Books, comics, magazines, newspaper, movies, documentaries, and academic studies have repeatedly covered the ground.

Bring myths to life

Despite all this effort, the case will never be solved and the victims will never be given justice. All that remains is a horror story, which has been told the world over and has spawned an entire tourist industry that brings the Ripper’s bloodthirsty myths to life.

As with many bogeyman stories, humour has been added to the mix in the name of entertainment – and to take the sting out of the kind of jump scares the London Dungeon is famous for. Or Edinburgh Dungeon with its humorous take on the infamous Victorian bodysnatchers, Burke and Hare.

So is this a real reputational crisis for London Dungeon? No, it’s confected criticism.

An enterprising journalist has spotted a chance to fill a space by phoning the usual bunch of rent-a-quotes to spout well-intentioned – but ultimately phony – outrage. It’s the oldest trick in the playbook – and itself creates a good old yarn, if you rise to the bait.

But, if you’re sensible, it’s best to ignore it.

Issue a crisis PR response

In these PC times, the London Dungeon and TfL felt they had to issue crisis management PR responses. The Dungeon said it “values and welcomes all customer feedback” and didn’t “condone the events or the perpetrator” in a Ripper show that has been running for 30 years.

TfL said it would speak to the Dungeon to “ensure they are more sensitive with these issues in future” although the ad had previously been reviewed and approved by its advertising partner.

And at the end of the day, is this difference of opinion going to stop people visiting the London Dungeon? No, because people go there to be entertained, to be frightened and to be ghoulish.

If you’re the kind of person outraged by that kind of thing, you’d never have visited anyway.

For help and advice call our crisis management experts now on 0800 612 9890.