‘The BB group: an undocumented meltdown’ is a blog that I drafted on November 13th, 2014. That was roughly one month after the online bully sites for young people were abruptly closed down, cutting off a life line for the vulnerable and at risk.
By the time the whole sordid mess had been somewhat swept under the carpet, there were more questions than answers: Who knew? How long has they known for? Where did all the money go?
Every crisis is unique but perhaps the fact that this crisis escalated so quickly and quietly suggests that there was a lack of concern for their reputation – perhaps because they knew they wouldn’t be around to suffer the consequences.
In the realm of PR, every student or practitioner will be able to reel off examples of good and bad crisis management. This aspect of PR is nothing new, it’s an integral aspect of media and public relations for many industries and organisations, yet even today, in our digital society, some crises stay relatively under the media radar.
A Google search of previously submitted annual financial reports, including 2012, indicated that the BB group was in trouble – financially.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and on reflection, the fact that significant figures within the organisation, including board members and other senior figures left, could have implied a new direction for the group, which some disagreed with or it could have been an early warning sign that the business was in irreversible trouble.
When the sites finally closed down, there was no official statement from the group. The staff, many of whom were online counsellors working from home were not even officially told. The office staff were sent home as the administrators were called in. But at no point did the company talk honestly and openly to its’ staff, its’ users or the public about the crisis.
Although speculation can in no way make up for cold hard facts, there may be several factors that lead to the secret financial crisis, that ultimately lead to the demise of the group.
Aside from the financial results that were publicly released highlighting the group were in debt (they cited that the reason for this was heavy investment in technology), it has been suggested that the group may have expanded too far and too fast as they opened 6 new offices in Europe, enabled by government funding.
Some of the points I have struggled to process since the crisis broke include the ethical and moral issues.
The way they handled the crisis was sneaky from start to finish, staff were not informed of the crucial details and even had pay withheld, many of those on zero hours contracts have never seen the money that they were owed.
The way the company turned its’ back on some of the most vulnerable young people in society without so much as an apology is terrible. It’s particularly hard to accept given the nature of the business; counselling, which is supposed to be open, transparent and built upon trust and understanding.
A final blow to the counsellors who stood by the BB group amidst all of this controversy and adversary was to find out that all of the managing directors and permanent salaried members of staff had found new jobs before the casual counsellors were even told that the company was closing down. This in itself raises many issues and ethical questions over the handling of the crisis and the company.
The group went into liquidation after failing to find a new buyer, leaving many counsellors without an explanation. Luckily many of the young people affected by the sudden closure of the site were guided on social media to other sites to help them if they were in crisis.
This once prestigious charity ended knowing that yes, they had made the difference to the lives of many young people, but their demise left staff betrayed and deceived.
I find it particularly frustrating that this charity was able to quietly meltdown without media or government scrutiny, which I am once again reminded of when everyone is questioning the demise of the Kids Company but forgets that the BB group ever even existed.