A Crisis Management Guru Bungles a Crisis


In May, when Mr. Parker testified before the International Development Committee in Parliament, which is conducting an inquiry into sexual exploitation and abuse in the charity sector, Conservative MP Pauline Latham witheringly noted that the charity’s website “is currently asking people to donate seven pounds to provide warm clothing to help African children.”

Mr. Parker has defended the letters sent by Save the Children as a necessary measure to ensure that articles were accurate.

The challenge for Mr. Parker in recent months has been providing critical distance from a drama in which he is a major actor — a challenge that he believes he has met. He said that when complaints were first made he hired outside experts, oversaw a rigorous inquiry and expressed empathy for the women who were harassed. As for mistakes, the ones he acknowledged were essentially failures to fully inform the victims.

“We didn’t give the individuals the right information,” he told the committee in Parliament. “We didn’t have give them the right handbooks, we didn’t take them to the right place on the website to look at the processes, and we didn’t really give them the right advice on the options. So I think there were real failings in there.”

Some employees who watched Mr. Parker up close, in 2012, 2015 and in recent months, believe his failings go beyond protocol. Mr. Forsyth left the charity with no whiff of wrongdoing. Save the Children U.K. has taken a hit to both its reputation and its finances — donations are down — that will shadow the charity for a long time.

But Mr. Parker can count one notable triumph in his approach to this public relations calamity. Despite all the negative media attention, not a single client has left Brunswick, he said. In fact, revenue in the British part of the company is up 29 percent in the first four months of the year.

History may ultimately determine that Mr. Parker has received more than his fair share of the blame for what went wrong at Save the Children U.K. Then again, fairness is rarely a feature of scandals, a truism he knows better than anyone. Five years ago, in a presentation to partners at Brunswick titled “Five Myths, Five Truths,” Mr. Parker outlined a set of ideas that would have been worth reviewing in recent months.

Myth No. 1: “It’s not fair.”


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