The Millwall Strategy

There are a few basic rules to follow when a crisis hits, whether it’s one of your making or someone else’s.

Apologise. Explain what you’re doing to help anyone affected, and how you got into that position in the first place (and usually in that order).

If you’ve got something to lose – customers, money, prestige, contracts – get your MD, CX, Leader, whoever out there from the start doing the media rounds, pushing your message and taking control of the news agenda.

If you’ve nothing to lose, however… then you adopt the Millwall Strategy. “No-one likes us, we don’t care.” Which is what Northern has done.

People will still travel by train, through necessity or choice. Northern is a subsidised franchise, which means they get paid to run it. Government isn’t going to take over running the business and taking the grief. So, just ignore it and carry on as before. Why meet with stakeholders or give media interviews when you know you’re just going to get a kicking?

The thing is: the changes to the services are part of the franchise commitments agreed with the Rail North Partnership, which is half-DfT and half-Rail North (which is now part of Transport for the North but which still represents all the local transport authorities in the north of England). The changes couldn’t be implemented fully because of delays during construction projects in the north-west and elsewhere by Network Rail (not helped by Carillion going under). Drivers are now belatedly being route trained, but new trains are also being delivered and cascaded trains have been introduced.

The industry knows all this: so why not tell customers? Why not go out on the front foot as soon as you know there’s a problem, take ownership, show you have a passing interest in your captive customers and resolve it on your own terms? Why not act as if you actually do have something to lose?

Here’s a thought. If you don’t care about your customers, your reputation or your communications… what else don’t you care about?

Disclosures. I worked on media and stakeholder communications for Rail North Ltd. when they and DfT awarded the Northern franchise to Deutsche Bahn via their Arriva UK subsidiary. Northern’s current MD was part of that process. And I know a few people at Northern as part of my roles at WYCA and SYPTE.

That doesn’t mean I agree with anything that they’ve done recently.

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