Most journalists who go into public relations never look back.
For reasons not worth going into, I did.
And since the Auckland couple who absconded to Wānaka are already paying for legal advice and may take the next step towards the poor-house by hiring a PR agent, this advice is offered for free – or for the price of a BusinessDesk subscription, which after all is really an investment…
So here goes: how to behave when you flout the lockdown rules and an entire country hates you.
1/ Front up.
Get on television and make a single, contrite acknowledgement of your entitled stupidity and arrogance. Apologise – and do that properly. Don’t attempt justification. None of this “apologies to anyone offended” nonsense. Just say you’re sorry – really really sorry.
2/ Shut up.
3/ Turn off your mobile phone and stay off news and social media websites for a couple of days. It will be less upsetting.
With any luck, the pitchfork emojis will die down within a couple of days.
4/ If you’ve still got to endure a court appearance, try and get that date moved forward so that it happens during lockdown. That way, it’s entirely possible journalists will have to report the hearing via Zoom – if they can register in time. The courts require applications two days in advance to observe a hearing remotely. There’s a good chance there won’t be two days between notification of your appearance and the appearance itself. Coverage will inevitably be limited.
A sympathetic judge – goodness knows, any judge in the country must understand your plight – will take into account your immediate contrition and may discount whatever further ignominy awaits in the form of official punishment.
Follow this strategy and you will hate the limelight, but it all goes away quickly.
There is one vital requirement: humility. Take your lumps and get it over with.
5/ Return to normal life, more than a little chastened.
There is another course of action.
For the pitchfork brigade, this is much more satisfying as the story will run on and on.
So here goes: how to make sure everyone hates you for longer when you flout the lockdown rules.
1/ Break the rules that everyone else in Auckland is trying hard to keep by exploiting your ‘essential worker’ status to cross the boundary from Auckland to fly from Hamilton to Queenstown – perhaps via Wellington just to annoy everyone in the capital as well. Now drive to Wānaka.
2/ Get caught.
3/ Go to ground. Hire a lawyer and take legal rather than communications advice. Seek name suppression.
4/ Foolishly imagine your name and all kinds of details about your personal and professional lives – where you live, what you do, how tall you are, that time you won a raffle at the pub – won’t spread like wildfire on social media.
5/ Consider disabling the ‘Contact Us’ form on your business’s website. It will be overloaded very shortly and not one of these inquiries will involve new business opportunities.
6/ Continue to seek name suppression and while you’re at it, hell, why not paint a target on your forehead? Every newsroom in the country – apart from BusinessDesk, since your activities do not constitute business activity except for lawyers and crisis communications consultants – knows who you are by now and wants to write about you.
7/ Hunker down and complain to anyone who will listen – it will be a small group – that it’s all terribly unfair.
8/ Wonder when it will ever stop. The coverage will, but don’t expect people to forget in a hurry. You behaved like a muppet, you tried to hide, you didn’t apologise, you became the punchbag for a city of a million frustrated lockdown inmates, whose sympathy is already in very short supply.
The very least a decent person would do – without prompting or needing advice – would be to say they're sorry.