In late 2016, our reputation was at stake. We unknowingly became part of a scam. In fact, you’ve probably heard of it.

It happened on the Gold Coast. We’d been contacted on LinkedIn by an event organiser to manage the social media promotion of a four-day leadership conference called ‘I Just Say It’. The venue was booked and 26 speakers were coming from all over the world. All we needed to do was make sure that everyone on the Coast and in Brisbane knew it was happening. Straightforward enough.

Fast forward six weeks. The day before. When it all fell apart.

The event was cancelled without warning and the organiser made no attempt to refund the money. People were furious, having lost so much money, as well as the speakers who had yet to see any, and in their rage, they reached out to Channel 7 News.

Then Channel 7 contacted me.

If you’re still not aware of this story, this is about Brad Fergusson, a leadership entrepreneur who charged around $1000 per ticket for an event that never happened.

It’s never easy to tell a scam artist from a genuine business owner. Today’s technology access makes it easy to create an online presence that seems genuine, so at the end of the day, you have to put your trust in people.

But my story isn’t one of trust. It’s about what to do after the trust is broken.

You see, once Brad was outed as someone unscrupulous, everyone associated with him was at risk of being labelled the same. Including us.

But as someone who teaches crisis media training for a living, I knew exactly how to handle one when it was at my doorstep.

Crisis Management Theory 101: Priority one is the victims, their families, and friends. Communicate proactively.

The media of now is social media. It’s the fastest way to reach out and tell your side of the story. So my team and I jumped on Facebook and joined the conversation that started raging, to support and sympathise with everyone affected. We made it clear that we were just as devastated by this situation and had no idea it was coming.

Crisis Management Theory 102: Those who control the media in a crisis are the ones writing the story.

When Channel 7 contacted me, I told them our side and then assisted them in pulling a story together. Using my journalist skills, I tracked down interviewees and gave background information.

On the night the story when to air, we published a post on Facebook to further defend our reputation and our story:

Today we received some very distressing news here at Good Talent Media about a recent social media client of ours.

‘I Just Say It’ Leadership Conference organiser Brad Fergusson has turned out to be a person of very poor character.

He engaged us for just under a month to do his event social media, fooling us into thinking he was a real business person. Our association with him was limited in scope and brief and we have no personal ties with the man.

We were lucky because he paid most of his account upfront, however others have not been so lucky. Sadly, all of the 26 highly talented and well-respected speakers have not been paid, neither have other service providers such as web site designers and a photographer.

The event was canceled with no warning or public announcement, leaving 100’s of ticket buyers out of pocket.

Mr. Fergusson was very demanding, difficult and unpredictable to deal with during our brief engagement.

We are devastated for the hundreds of people that he ripped off and our hearts go out to all of these honest and hardworking people who have been financially affected by this man’s actions.

Our post received 2.4k views, 21 shares, and a lot of kudos for keeping the public up-to-date and standing by the victims.

Crisis Management Theory 103: Under the uniform defamation laws, truth alone is a defence.*

Soon after the story aired, a defamation letter hit my desk and the desks of Channel 7 Gold Coast, asking us to withdraw our online coverage. Channel 7 obliged and pulled their online story down, but I left mine up.

A crisis can happen when you least expect it, so make sure that when it does, social media is your first stop to getting your story out there.

*Taken from The Law Hand Book 2017, Defences to defamation, http://www.lawhandbook.org.au/11_02_04_defences_to_defamation/

 

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We provide training led by experienced journalist Tony Nicholls, who has covered international stories and worked for many of Australia’s major news networks. Find out more about the types of training we offer here: https://goodtalent.com.au/our-services/media-training/.

Tony Nicholls

Tony Nicholls

Founder and Director of Good Talent Media

Tony Nicholls is an accomplished journalist who has held roles for more than ten years with the ABC, SBS and Network Ten, covering thousands of news stories across Victoria, Australia and in the international media.

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