Crisis PR: The BBC expert, his wife, their children

Although we’d forgive anyone for residing themselves to some comfortable cupboard for a few weeks- such are the horrors filling Facebook feeds and news channels right now- we’re assuming you have been out and about of late. As such, we also assume you have seen the recent video that went viral, showcasing why working from home with the family downstairs may not be the best idea.
Professor Robert E. Kelly, an expert on South Korea, was giving an on-air interview from his home to inquiring minds at the BBC. He was supposed to be discussing the political knife-edge the country seems to be treading with regard to its parliament and a recent impeachment. An important issue, nevertheless the big talking point wound up being his children, who burst into the study- one doing a particularly hilarious walk- and interrupted the segment.
Needless to say, when it comes to kids all is usually forgiven, but not necessarily in this instance. Furore broke out online, somewhat unexpectedly, regarding the identity (and nationality) of the woman who grabbed the little mites and removed them from shot, and the result was something of a minefield for all involved.
Here we look at what happened, why it took the web by storm, the wildfire that followed, and what steps were taken to try and dampen those flames in a bid to offer a crisis PR lesson, using people who have no real PR training as an example. If they can do it…
[Tweet “‘#CrisisPR lesson, using people who have no real PR training’- @SmokingGunPR analysis of #BBCkids”]

So, what happened?

An expert was interrupted live on BBC TV when his children came into the room. They were quickly removed from the situation by their mother. Here’s the clip…


Why did it go viral?

There are several possible reasons why this video managed to tour the world and back in a matter of hours. Let’s look at them individually…
‘Kids say the funniest things’- No matter who you are, children will usually make you smile. Even when seen and not heard they manage to do be hilarious, not least when bursting into an interview looking like they’ve just found a new soft play area.
‘Bloopers are priceless’ – Audiences have long been obsessed with the moments TV producers don’t want people to see because of how pre-prepared and orchestrated broadcasts are. Getting proof on camera that presenters, actors and, in this case, experts aren’t perfect either is worth its weight in viewing figures.
‘Who’s that girl?’ – Our final point is something of a trigger for what happened next. Many people sharing the clip online, along with many media agencies, wrongly identified the woman who walks in and takes the kids out as being a nanny, when she was actually his wife, Jung-a Kim. This sparked a huge amount of criticism over the potentially racist nature of the comments- the assumption being that if she was South Korean (she is) then she must have been hired help, rather than a spouse. Controversy spreads as much as it sells.
[Tweet “The controversy, the reaction, the #PR lesson – @SmokingGunPR on #BBCKids”]

What happened next?

Mr. Kelly, the expert in question, evidently hoped the incident would pass without much fuss- he even responded to someone on Twitter shortly afterwards, saying…
Unfortunately for him, it did, clocking up more than 10million views worldwide in a matter of days. Even then it would have remained amusing, if comments hadn’t frequently pointed to ‘the hired help presumably getting sacked’ for negligence. An American blogger, Phil Yu, was quoted in the LA Times as saying ‘people fell back on stereotypes’, which kind of summarises the argument.
Things got pretty heated.

What the Kelly family did

Here’s where the lessons lie for any brand faced with a situation like this (granted, it probably won’t involve kids in baby walkers strolling into interviews, but hopefully you get our point)…
In a follow-up interview with the Wall Street Journal, Mr. and Mrs. Kelly explained that their main concern was potentially ruining their relationship with the BBC- he’s a regular talking head for the broadcaster. Mrs. Kelly was also quoted as saying:
I hope people just enjoy it and don’t argue over this thing,??? she said. “I’m not the nanny – that’s the truth – so I hope they stop arguing.???
Her husband admitted to feeling a lot more uncomfortable about the assumption, which is understandable. Fundamentally, though, both acted in the right way in order to douse the potential inferno before completely losing control, potentially ensuring they would get another shot with the media going forward. Here’s what we mean:
*They admitted what had happened and didn’t try to make excuses
*They did not hide the embarrassment- children are unpredictable and do not conform to the expectations of media or adult viewers, but everybody knows this
*They quickly moved to disarm the racism angle by embracing the people who saw the clip for what it was- hilarious
[Tweet “How to handle a #PRcrisis based on #BBCKids from @SmokingGunPR”]
Or, to put all that another way, they gave clear statements about what happened, focussed on being honest and transparent, and relied on the level-headed public (and BBC) to understand that sometimes things do go wrong.

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