Home Archive March 2010 Rewind: The hunt for Jack the Ripper
Rewind: The hunt for Jack the Ripper
Friday, 19 March 2010 11:36

Crisis management is nothing new – but it has evolved. Each month, we’ll be delving into history and asking you to apply modern day communications wisdom to an olden day crisis.

Whitechapel, 1888. As a series of grisly murders sends shockwaves through London, attention turns to the work of Scotland Yard. Publicly taunted by letters from the killer and facing a growing threat of vigilantism, the police force needs to restore faith. What comms advice would you give?The hunt for Jack the Ripper

John McWilliams, Brandpool

You can imagine the kind of fear and anger that was spreading through the streets, and a lot of that is caused by not knowing what’s happening. Fortunately, today there are many more media channels with which to people informed. You could obviously reassure people with an outdoor poster campaign or a direct marketing drive. But modern marketing strategy is as much about engagement as about information. I’d advise Scotland Yard to set up a social media site, where detectives could provide updates and respond to concerns. The public would have a forum to immediately share comments, clues to the Ripper’s whereabouts or even sightings. People could even subscribe to an SMS alert system for live updates on the investigation, although there’s a balance to be struck here since too much detail could encourage vigilantes. Another danger is that, using these modern marketing techniques in the 19th century, you could be accused of practicing some strange form of witchcraft. Much the same as today, I suppose.

RG Brunskill, Torch Communications

In the cramped, stinking streets of London’s Victorian East End, panic would spread like wildfire. So would syphilis for that matter, but that’s another story. The emphasis would need to be on the popular press and the one-penny pamphleteers. The chief of police would need to get his message in as many papers as possible. The Bobbies on the beat would need to do some serious work with local people. Rumours and falsehood could gain traction so quickly that the people on the ground would need to be doing a constant job of countering them with the positive police line on things. Not glamorous work, but absolutely essential. Ultimately though, the trust of the people is based on fact, on results. And no comms professional in the world could have kept that alive with Jack continuing to slay prostitutes.

Omar Bertrand, Hoskins

Talk about a lack of united front. The Met’s highestranking officers were at odds with each other and engaged in near constant bickering. That never looks good. And with no dedicated go-to media relations official, the official police line was ‘say nothing’. In the hotbed of gossip that was East London, the tabloid press and word-of-mouth created untruth and hysteria that could have been avoided. A dedicated spokesman or media relations office would have helped – as it was, high-ranking officers were directly involved with leading the day-to-day investigations and had little time or inclination to relate news to the press. An Assistant Chief Constable could have filled the comms role, which would have played well. He could have given interviews to members of the respected, fair and unbiased papers to give their chosen message an air of legitimacy, and the public would have come to rely on those accounts, and not the accounts of other, less accurate papers.

Next month: The Madness of George III The King became seriously deranged in November 1788, speaking for hours without pause, foaming at the mouth and even shaking hands with a tree in the belief it was the King of Prussia – all potentially disastrous for the standing of the monarchy. As the palace’s communications chief, what would you advise? Email your response to neil.gibbons@ communicatemagazine.co.uk