When Irish setter Jagger died from suspected poisoning in Belgium, the Kennel Club was thrown into crisis after the dog’s owners claimed that the incident had happened while it was competing at Crufts in Birmingham two days earlier.
The Kennel Club launched a two stage response – the first phase involved managing the negative media while the second phase was to put the record straight.
Caught off guard by the allegations on Friday 6 March, the Kennel Club had to first contact Jagger’s joint owners, based in Belgium and Leicester, in an effort to minimise damage and ask them to delay responding to media enquiries until toxicology tests could be completed and the full facts ascertained.
The next step was to contact the Belgian vet, toxicologist and police and all those with information about the case in order to separate fact from fiction.
Internally, after liaising with senior personnel, the Kennel Club developed its position, which was uploaded onto its website and that of Crufts, added to social media and distributed to journalists. The statement was also recorded as audio and video footage, allowing the Kennel Club to decline media interview requests and maintain a consistent approach.
Voicemail messages asked journalists to file their requests by email, which were answered (when possible) by reference to the approved statement. Those that required further response were handled by a senior team manager who developed an appropriate line.
No member of the media received a ‘no comment’ response.
A log sheet of queries and responses was produced, and shared with the NEC, owners of the venue in which Crufts had taken place, and responses adjusted to reflect new angles.
The Kennel Club obtained the toxicology report over the weekend, securing its release on the Monday to allow responses to be prepared. Working with the Veterinary Poisons Information Service, the Club secured third party expert commentary and audio and video footage supporting its view that the incident occurred in Belgium.
It was careful to ensure that the tone of its responses was sympathetic and not congratulatory. However, requests to release a joint statement with the owners were declined, although the Kennel Club did engage with them over the weekend.
‘This was an ad hoc crisis response,’ said the judges. ‘But it was comprehensive throughout and executed well. It was impressive work with no external communications help.’