Thursday, November 5, 2009

Crisis Communications in action

To help myself better understand crisis communications and the most appropriate methods to use (and how to figure out which are the most appropriate methods), I decided to look up a few examples of crisis communications in action. Of course, as I found out when researching for my previous blog post, being prepared seems to be one of the most crucial aspects of good crisis communications. What about if you are not prepared?

Lo and behold, I found an article talking about just that. While it is specifically discussing European firms, I think some of these things apply to American firms too (and actually, I don't mind the European aspect; I hope to work for an international organization). The exact statistics given in this article are that "although 60% of the business decision makers polled have experienced a crisis and more than half of these have experienced one in the past year, only 53 percent currently have a crisis plan in place." Now, I have learned from my statistics class to be skeptical of the veracity of statistics, for illustrative sake, I'll take these as is. This survey was led by Burson-Marsteller, a global public relations and communications consultancy (that description is word-for-word from the article except for the word "leading" which I remember is one of those means-nothing words). Basically the article discusses the consequences of not having a crisis plan ready, one of the more detrimental being that companies without a crisis plan usually have longer recovery period (they cite 9 months, rather than 7). Some other consequences they discuss:
  • bigger loss of revenue and layoffs
  • falling share prices
  • loss of corporate reputation
  • loss of media and/or public trust
  • law suits by individuals or groups
All of these I believe are quite true and quite important. They even give an example of this by mentioning British Airways.
...which leads me to the blog post I found specifically talking about why airlines usually have such bad PR.
As noted in the blog post, airline PR practitioners must have one of the most difficult and stressful PR jobs ever. When people are flying, they want a perfect, uneventful trip which seems to rarely happen. This article specifically talks about United Airways. The event discussed was about a Canadian musician, Dave Carroll, who flew United and subsequently had his expensive guitar broken by the baggage handlers. When he received no sympathy from United employees, not only did he blog about it, he even wrote a song and made a video (posted in this article). This has got to be a nightmare for United; musicians are obviously not the ones to cross. United suffered. However, these types of situations are not left just United Airways. All airlines are notorious for losing luggage, delayed flights, bad customer service, and, apparently, breaking customers' personal possessions. It seems to be unavoidable, so the only way an airline can keep its customers happy is with good customer service and good communications, largely the responsibility of public relations practitioners. It also discusses airline attempts (and fails) to use social media to help with customer service and complaints. I think this is partially due to the fact that many problems with airlines are seen as very serious and many people might expect something more formal than social media which is still seen sometimes as young and solely for entertainment. However, if airlines could figure out how to use social media to their advantage, it could be incredibly beneficial (that said, they may just have to wait it out for social media to obtain a more serious reputation).

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