The dos and don’ts of crisis communications

News travels fast, and thanks to social media – bad news travels even quicker. There’s been some classic examples over the years of well-known organisations making some basic communication errors that have resulted in a severe backlash. As a B2B PR agency, we wanted share with you some dos and don’ts that we’ve taken from some recent high profile examples:

 

Do

Show genuine remorse – As the founder of worldwide conglomerate Virgin, Richard Branson knows how to deal with a crisis. After the crash of a Virgin aircraft last year, he faced the media head-on and gave his condolences to the families of the victims. Virgin’s and Branson’s image was mitigated as a result.

Take responsibility – When several people were injured in a rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers, parent company Merlin Entertainments couldn’t deny that it was at fault. Its CEO Nick Varney had to address the media with care. Even when faced with one particularly stern journalist, Varney recognised the severity of the incident and admitted that the theme park was at fault.

Plan in advance – When HSBC had a glitch in its payment processes, the bank communicated the problem over Twitter and briefed journalists almost in an instance, before giving regular updates to customers. How were they so quick? They had a crisis plan in place and knew exactly how to handle the situation.

 

Don’t

Try to bury bad news – When two British children died of carbon monoxide poisoning on a Thomas Cook holiday, the travel company failed to publicly apologise (and to this day still hasn’t), much to the criticism of the media and public. Thomas Cook may have tried to make us forget about it, but in the days of online news, there’s no longer such thing as tomorrow’s chip paper.

Have attitude – Ryanair isn’t known for wonderful PR, particularly one occasion when a celebrity criticised the airline for imposing an unfair surcharge on those who fail to produce a boarding card. Ryanair replied by referring to printing a boarding card as a ‘super-complex task’ (it’s fair to say that sarcasm was intended).

Make a half-hearted apology – Urban Outfitters was criticised for selling a sweatshirt that was reminiscent of an American mass-shooting. The retailer replied with an apology, before denying that the sweatshirt implied anything of the sort. The ‘sorry, not sorry’ apology is clearly not something to use in a crisis situation…

 

Alex Brown has just started his career at Skout PR and will be a regular contributor to the Skout blog.

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