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C4 Dispatches results in two very different issues management strategies

February 24, 2012 by Jonathan Hemus

When a  TV documentary team goes undercover to expose malpractice in your sector, important decisions need to be made about your issues management strategy.

So it was fascinating to observe how Viagogo and Seatwave adopted entirely different reputation protection strategies when Channel 4’s Dispatches looked into the “the great ticket scandal”.  Using secret cameras, reporters posed as employees of both businesses to investigate how peer to peer ticket exchanges operate.  Among the allegations were claims that many tickets are advertised by brokers rather than the general public and that ticket exchanges make money by buying from official sources then re-selling at a higher price.

So how did, Viagogo and Seatwave respond to the reputational challenge provided by the programme?

Viagogo: bury the programme then bury your head
Viagogo, sought a high court injunction to prevent broadcast of the programme “to prevent customer information being made public”.  Whilst the injunction was initially secured, it was subsequently overturned by Channel 4.  The result: pre-broadcast press coverage which guaranteed greater attention on the programme than would otherwise have been the case. Legal action to suppress publication or broadcast of a story about your business is a legitimate tactic: but it is a last resort and a risky crisis management tactic (as Ryan Giggs would probably agree).

During the programme itself, Viagogo was silent, with no interviewee provided and there appears to be no statement or other information about the Dispatches programme in the media section of its website.

Seatwave: put your case through your own channels
Seatwave also failed to provide a spokeseperson for the programme (though both companies offered a written statement).  Instead, it used its own social media channels – Tweets and a company blog penned by company founder Joe Cohen – to put its side of the story.  Mr Cohen tweeted throughout the programme and uploaded three blog postings during the course of two days explaining the Seatwave position.

By taking a pro-active approach, Seatwave ensured that Dispatches’ allegations did not pass unchallenged and also showed itself as a business prepared to address tough questions and stand behind its reputation.

Whatever you think of the business practices of Viagogo and Seatwave, it seems to me that Seatwave’s policy of engagement in adversity is the right one.  As one of the respondents to Joe Cohen’s blog said: “Thank you for the transparency in what you’ve posted here, it puts a much better impression of your company than certain other parties discussed in the documentary”.

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