Posted by David Oates 2 years, 2 months ago


Thoughts of a Crisis PR situation, like the one United embroiled themselves in with reckless abandon, usually bring about images of a company spokesperson or CEO nervously standing in front of a sea of cameras, microphones and reporters trying to convey their side of a very uncomfortable situation.

Fair enough, but if all an organization does in dealing with a massive stink bomb like this is press relations, their problems will more than likely get even worse. Moreover, the order of priority for communicating any corporate response in a crisis should be:

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Stakeholders
  • Media

Too often, organizations get this backwards. It’s understandable to a point. Most people believe that news outlets possess the largest mouthpiece and the greatest potential to tell the world about the failings of a particular company. That type of thinking clouds three other realities.

First, employees work on the front lines as the primary brand ambassadors. Their personal interaction with customers can make the difference in quickly calming a Crisis PR situation down or stoking the flames that allow the situation to fester. Convey to them all the facts and how the organization is responding. Give employees the confidence that you support and appreciate the help they will give to communicating this to others. If you don’t, your staff will likely be confused, frustrated and anxious while performing their job. Customers will see this, and draw the conclusion that the company’s recent missteps speak to larger, systemic problems.

Next, reach out directly to your customers at the same time you speak to media. It can occur through email, social media, text and many other ways. Give them the facts, cop to the organizations’ shortcomings and convey how things will be made right. Also, invite them to be part of the solution. Companies that demonstrate a sincere effort on these initiatives will stand the best chance of not just preserving their revenue base, but long-term goodwill with patrons.

Don’t forget the others stakeholders in a Crisis PR program. Investors, partners and vendors will want to hear from you and be reassured that all will come out well in the long term.

While addressing the media in a timely fashion remains critical, focusing exclusively on that group, no matter how well it’s done, will not make the Crisis PR situation go away. Far from it. The news cycle will extend and, most likely, expand if the other audiences aren’t given their due care and consideration. Just ask United. While the press was unrelenting in their actions against the 69-year-old passenger, it was their current and past customers that did the most damage through their relentless social media barrage that included videos of them shredding their frequent flyer cards. The airline made many cardinal errors in dealing with this incident, but one of the main ones was forgetting to talk to all four audiences well.


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