“I thought I’d just ignore it,” he told me.

There are many cases where I’m sure this is absolutely the best policy. Junk mail. A minor insect bite. An insult from someone you don’t care about.

But an approach from an investigative BBC journalist isn’t one of them.

When I got the crisis communications call from the company director – who I didn’t know – at 5pm the other day, he said he had less than an hour to answer eight probing questions into his business, which was already in some reputational deep water.

My first reaction was that this was unreasonable. The BBC ought to allow more time to respond, especially as many of the questions were clearly complex, relating to the company’s structure, its directors and shareholders and financial transactions stretching back several years.

That’s when he said he’d first received the BBC’s email 10 days before and “thought I’d just ignore it. I figured if I did that, they’d go away.”

Having just received a further email and two phone messages saying the broadcaster was going to run its story the next day – and that he had until 6pm to defend his company’s position – he seemed shocked to find he’d been wrong.

Fortunately, we managed to get the BBC to agree to extend its deadline to 11am the next morning. Then, dropping everything to get to grips with the matter as quickly as possible, we provided clear, transparent responses within this time which persuaded the reporter there was actually no story worth running.

That was the best possible outcome. But frankly – at that extremely late stage – I’m surprised we managed to pull it off.

The chance of achieving that happy result had been enormously reduced by leaving it to the very last minute. By this time, the journalist was invested in his story – and doubtless irritated at having been snubbed for 10 days.

There are some things it’s never wise to ignore in the hope they’ll go away.

An investigative journalist who thinks he’s on the trail of corporate misdealings is definitely one of them.


See more on our crisis communications services.