Orange under pressure
In 1978, the Secretary of State for the Post Office and Telecommunications, signed a protocol with the Ministry of Health to allocate a free emergency number, 15. Since then, the number of emergency numbers has been multiplied, sometimes to the point of confusion: for the fire brigade, is it 15, 17 or 112? But the system has not failed. At least until June 2nd, 2021, when all the emergency numbers were suddenly unavailable. An exceptional breakdown that occurred at a sensitive time, in more ways than one…
Although the service was restored the following day, this breakdown was the first of its kind and as Olivier Véran, Minister of Health, made clear on the set of BFMTV, “it must be the last”. A message that sounds like a warning for Orange, the State being still its reference shareholder, which is subject to an obligation of result, just like other operators, who did not wait to communicate the same evening on Twitter, stating that it was a “technical incident encountered by another operator. ”
A rapid, controlled and precise reaction on a communication stand point.
Aware of the stakes involved for the brand, Orange mobilised its top executives (Stéphane Richard, the CEO, and Fabienne Dulac, the General Manager for France) around an effective communication strategy, to respond quickly to a crisis that was beginning to gain momentum in the media.
On Twitter, the company reacted immediately by apologizing and emphasizing the mobilization of the technical teams to remedy to this breakdown. This was followed by a second tweet, with the alternative numbers in place as well as advice on how to overcome this technical problem (repeat the call, try from a mobile). The press release published the same evening is hardly more detailed, withone main addition: the company specifies the scope of the breakdown “landline services in certain regions, including certain emergency numbers.” The crisis, which seemed national, was now limited to 11 regions.
The next day, at 10am, the company gave an update on the situation and reassuring news on the resolution of the technical incident. The press release also announced that Stéphane Richard would be meeting with ministers Gerald Darmanin and Cédric O in the morning.
On TF1’s midday news program, Stéphane Richard presented “Orange’s apologies” to the people who had been victims of its malfunctions, as well as to all the partners of this service, whose responsiveness he praised. He assured that the situation was now under control, and made sure to explain in detail the malfunction and the mobilization of teams to find “the underlying cause”, unknown at the time. On RTL Soir, the CEO highlighted that the situation was now “normal”.
Fabienne Dulac, General Manager of Orange France, also did her bit. During the day, she organized a conference call with several regional media to spread the company’s messages throughout the country and to reiterate the mobilization of the teams in the face of “an extremely rare crisis”. The tone was reassuring and pedagogical, despite the technical nature of the subject. On Twitter, on June 3rd, communication was limited to a single tweet each; it was not a question of multiplying the number of speeches, but of controlling the messages and the figures that would be relayed. Collaboration with the government was also emphasised, and in response to pressure from its majority shareholder, the company announced that it had launched an internal investigation, which would be made public on June 11.
The aftermath : the reconquest through investigation
As promised, Orange published the results of the investigation conducted by the Group’s General Inspection department, through a sober, technical and factual press release. The group explained in 3 parts the origin of the malfunction, reassuring on the handling of the problem.
Then the company highlighted the responsiveness of the technical teams in the section dedicated to the alerting process. “Once the analysis was established, the resolution took place in a few hours thanks to the mobilization of a hundred experts.” The operator also made a point of explaining the communication failures towards its stakeholders during the crisis, pointing out the slowness of the management teams in setting up a dedicated managerial crisis cell.
The press release ended with a series of recommendations from the General Inspection department, which recognized the immediate involvement of the technical teams but the need for the company to improve the rapidity of the diffusion of information to its various stakeholders, by reducing the time required to set up a crisis unit to a maximum of 30 minutes.
To conclude this last statement, Orange apologized again to all those affected by the malfunction, and explained that they would continue to conduct investigations in conjunction with the Government to strengthen the lessons learned from this crisis.
The press release was then published on Twitter by the account @presseorange and relayed only on the Orange France account. Stéphane Richard and Fabienne Dulac have not spoken on the subject since June 4.
A crisis that hides others ?
A fault confessed is half redressed? Far from it, the National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (ANSSI) has been mandated by the Government to conduct a formal audit of the security and integrity of Orange’s network and services.
Furthermore, this crisis brought to light several other issues such as the condition of the copper network dedicated to telephone and ADSL owned by Orange, which was judged to be deplorable by the other operators, and by Laure de la Raudière, president of Arcep, in front of the Senatorial commission on regional planning and sustainable development last March.
Finally, purely by coincidence of timing, this crisis occurred at the same time as the hearings of the criminal appeal on the arbitration of Bernard Tapie’s conflict with Crédit Lyonnais, in which Stéphane Richard is prosecuted for his role as chief of staff of the Minister of the Economy.
That was all it took for speculation about his future at the head of the group to return, as shown by the double-page devoted to him in L’Obs, which opens with a detailed analysis of the CEO’s achievements and his future endeavors. For Stéphane Richard and Orange, the pressure is not ready to let up and their mastery over crisis communication will undoubtedly be tested again in the coming months.