Every industry out there is exposed to unfortunate accidents. Some of them are so harsh that they make it to the newspapers within minutes only. Airlines represent the most common example. On the other hand, some other problems are less likely to be so popular. However, when it comes to a crisis, it is surprising how quickly a simple problem can become a disaster in public relations (PR).
For some companies, a crisis can be fatal. It can practically destroy them. When a Pan American Airlines plane was destroyed by a team of hijackers above Lockerbie, the company has suffered a serious PR disaster when the press found out that it was actually warned about the presence of a bomb on board. However, the company used to get around four bomb threats on the phone everyday, so no one really cared about a random one. It did not really matter in the general perception of the population. Shortly after this accident, Pan American Airlines has stopped its activities. The problem was obvious. Not having an efficient strategy to handle the crisis led to bankruptcy.
A lot of companies have well organized crisis teams that can anticipate specific scenarios and potential threats. They analyse the issues that might lead to PR problems and they find solutions before they even happen. When Eurolines – an European bus transportation company – had an accident, the crisis team handled everything in a very successful manner. A bus transporting people from Warsaw to London has been hit by a truck in Germany. I have a friend who was travelling to London back then. A lot of people got injured. Some of them were taken to a nearby hospital too. The PR team was ready to step in. Some travellers were hospitalized in Germany, while others were given the opportunity to go back to Warsaw or just continue their trip to London with other buses.
Those who have continued their trip to London were accommodated at a local prestigious hotel. My friend was one of them, since he only got away with a few bruises. They had a medical team at their disposal, although most of the victims were held in Germany for medical treatments. A team of translators also got there in order to ease the communication. The team has checked out the passenger list. Unsurprisingly, not all of them were Polish. Some of them were coming from other countries as well. The team has booked rooms for both the passengers and the people who were waiting for them. The executive director of Eurolines and the PR manager also showed up on site. They got there in order to discuss with the reporters and prevent them from reaching to the passengers for comments. Eurolines has paid for the food as well. The next day, the company has offered free tickets for all the connections in the United Kingdom. Most passengers were supposed to change buses in London, so the accident has pretty much cancelled their plans.
The organization was amazing – efficient, safe and ready to provide a friendly atmosphere. Such an ingenious approach was not an accidental episode though. It can only be achieved through severe and strict training.
Organize your crisis team by the book
So how do you build an efficient team for quality public relations?
- Choose the right people for this team. They must be mature enough in order to gain some credibility in front of your potential customers, but also to understand possible problems and solutions.
- Organize small meetings on a regular basis with the crisis team in order to imagine potential scenarios.
- Exercise regularly and organize small simulations of specific scenarios.
- Make sure that your crisis team members know how to handle the press. Someone who refuses to comment on every question is usually a disaster for your public relations.