By James Fitzpatrick
Cricket Australia has plunged into crisis with batsman Cameron Bancroft caught ball-tampering and Captain Steve Smith admitting to colluding in a plan to cheat South Africa in the current Test Series.
As a consultant for specialist crisis management firm, Crisis Shield, our team regularly deals with issues that threaten the brand, reputation, and viability of an organisation.
The cricketing world will be watching Cricket Australia’s every move and if they get it wrong, the damage to their reputation will be significant and may take years to re-build. They’ll find themselves with less sway on the world cricket circuit, less appeal to sponsors, and less support from their passionate fan-base.
If they get it right, they have a chance to restore confidence in their organisation and display strong leadership and resolve in taking full responsibility, accepting fault, and demonstrating a clear plan for rectifying the broader problem at hand.
So what strategy should they use to take control of the crisis?
Before they make any big decisions, they need to establish the facts, which is exactly what they’re doing.
When there’s options on the table like the sacking of the captain — and arguably best batsmen in the world — you need to make sure you’ve got the entire story straight, and we (the public and media) should give them some time to do so.
If they make a bold move before knowing all the facts, and then new information comes out that undermines their original decision, they risk adding further fuel to the crisis and increased damage to their reputation.
Regardless of the outcomes of their investigation and the subsequent measures they take, their overall crisis communication response should broadly follow (in my opinion) the strategy I’ve outlined below. The strategy is based on Crisis Shield’s Crisis Response Model and Coombs situational crisis communication theory (2014):
What type of crisis are we dealing with?
To decide upon an appropriate approach, you need to first analyse the amount and type of responsibility your stakeholders (Australian public, media, ICC, and other cricketing nations etc.) are likely to attribute to you in this crisis.
Much of the initial response (and there has been a considerable volume…) has already linked allegations of poor culture as the enabler for this particular incident. This points to a strong attribution of responsibility to Cricket Australia in this crisis. This attribution is then intensified by two key components:
The incident in question (ball tampering) involves a clear breach of regulations and can obviously be deemed as an act of ‘cheating’
The Australian Cricket Team (and there-by Cricket Australia) has a history or unsociable culture and suffers a mixed reputation (particularly in the eyes of other cricketing nations) — including recent allegations and charges against the current Vice Captain (David Warner) for poor behaviour.
Because we’re looking at ‘strong attribution of responsibility with (at least) two intensifying factors’, the response will need to be comprehensive and include most elements of a significant crisis communication response, including:
a full acceptance of responsibility with sincere apology;
care and concern for all stakeholders affected; and
instruction and a demonstrated plan for resolution of the identified problem(s).
Based on the above strategy, once all the key facts are known, Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland’s message to all stakeholders (which should be communicated through as many channels as possible — e.g. socials, mass email to fans, media statement, and press conference) should be built on the following structure (based off Crisis Shield’s Message Response Model):
What we know: update all stakeholders on the outcomes of your investigation and clearly define the facts to avoid misinformation spreading.
What we don’t know: explain the areas that you’re still investigating (if there’s a broader cultural issue, this will need more time to unravel properly).
What we’re doing: take full responsibility for what has occurred and explain what you’re doing to resolve the immediate situation and address the broader cultural problems (depending on what your investigation finds).
What we want you to do: Ask for forgiveness from all your stakeholders (particularly the Australian public) by offering a sincere apology for letting them down — and make a clear distinction between being sorry for what occurred rather than being sorry that you were caught. Demonstrate sincere care and concern for all stakeholders involved (including those who are punished — i.e. don’t just hang them out to dry without any support). Explain how you will keep all stakeholders up to date on your mission to resolve the various issues.
The road ahead is going to be long for the players involved and for Cricket Australia as a whole but there is an opportunity here to demonstrate clear resolve and leadership by accepting failure and laying the foundations for an improved brand and reputation.
As a passionate follower of the game and a devout supporter of the team, I can only hope they seize the opportunity immediately in front of them.
Crisis Shield is a Melbourne based consultancy that lives and breathes crisis management and crisis communication; this is their niche and they have delivered services in this area for Australia’s most prominent organisations across a variety of industries.