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Spark throws its contingency plans in the fire

Spark’s response to Rugby World Cup streaming problems is a lesson in trusting in your contingency plans.

Spark were quick to act; within minutes of problems occurring the game was made available on free-to-air. Refunds were reasonable and offered quickly.

But involving the CEO in public communication leaves the company no room to escalate if another incident occurs.

Spark has carefully framed its sports subsidiary as a separate business.  All customer communications came from Spark Sport and nearly every comment to media was made from Spark Sport and its head, Jeff Latch.

The advantage is it’s easier for Spark to dissociate itself from reputational harm if Spark Sport hits trouble.

That gap was wiped out by Spark itself at the first (predictable) signs of stream quality issues. At first Spark’s Head of Communications fronted to morning talkback, and shortly after the CEO started speaking to media.  Their message was “we believe we’ll deliver the remaining 41 matches perfectly” (our emphasis).

That escalation to the big guns may have been the plan all along, but the CEO’s message meant there was no going back.

Perfection is a very high bar to publicly stake not just the reputation of Spark Sport, but the reputation of the Spark CEO. It almost challenges media and the public to spot anything less than perfection.

The CEO’s commitment may be well founded, but we think a stepped escalation plan would have been wiser. Spark Sport should have dealt with the first negative event. If another happened, then Spark itself could become involved. Timing is everything in the PR game, as is the rule of thumb to leave room for the next thing that goes wrong.

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