Top Gear crash investigation – implications for PR

The has published a report into the Top Gear crash involving presenter, Richard Hammond last September.  It contains criticisms over risk assessment and training provision in relation to both the BBC and Primetime Landspeed Engineering, which owned the car and provided Hammond’s training.

The full investigation report makes a valuable read in respect of the process the production team followed in setting up the feature.  The investigation’s focus on planning, preparation and training should remind public relations practitioners of the need for detailed risk assessment, and particular, the time required to do this adequately. 

Very often requests from the media to put together an activity are at short notice.  PR practitioners are usually adept at being responsive and adaptive – but this should never be at the expense of adequate planning for all eventualities.  In addition, monitoring risks during events is essential. 

There are also lessons here regarding assessing the competency of journalists.  Richard Hammond, like most motoring journalists, is very experienced, but the report notes that his skills were not directly assessed and specific training needs were not identified.   Perhaps motoring journalist groups should take note here and consider evaluating their members’ skills and organising appropriate training programme.

Fortunately, excellent crisis management arrangements were in place with regard to emergency assistance at the venue.  This proved crucial and showed the particular strengths of the emergency services in handling such a crisis situation.

Event management is a key area of PR practice and a focus on planning theories is increasingly common.  As part of this knowledge, it is vital to understand risk assessment procedures, and in particular, the need to work with experts and keep exemplary documentary records before, during and after any activities.

There are legal and insurance implications that also need to be considered.  This might seem restrictive, and fortunately, incidents like this are very rare.  But given the high stakes to individuals and corporate reputations, professional public relations practitioners and responsible journalists, need to ensure that any risks being taken are reasonable and all necessary precautions have been taken.

I think this is an area where needs to offer specific training for our members – so it is now a high priority to include in the workshop programme for the coming months.

In recent years there has been a lot of discussion between motoring journalist groups and PR practitioners in automotive companies regarding insurance and liability.  This report emphasises the importance of ensuring such matters are recognised as essential and part of the professional nature of modern public relations. 

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

4 thoughts on “Top Gear crash investigation – implications for PR”

  1. The idea that PR planning should include risk assessment is quite new but I think is essential. It is a management discipline and common in many other spheres of management. It certainly should be taught in PR courses as the means by which risk can be mitigated and opportunity optimised. I promise to do more work on this asap.

  2. David – I look forward to seeing your further work on this area. I agree that there is a lot that can be drawn from other management disciplines. For PR, risk assessment is a vital consideration at both the strategic and tactical level. One area where PR is able to add strategic value is in terms of risk assessment of issues that have the potential to affect reputation and relationships. That is in addition to the more tactical risk assessment required for PR operational activities. Two key areas for consideration in PR courses I believe.

  3. I think it would make an excellent MIPAA Workshop.I can recall any number of incidents on Press launches which could have turned nasty.
    In my day, when people were less ready to run to court,usually settled with a comforting glass,not the proverbial cup of sweet tea

  4. Gethin, you make a good point about legal implications in terms of litigation, but there could also be criminal proceedings resulting from management negligence.

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