Airline stories show how your crisis can stay in the news

24 April 2017

It’s a problem United Airlines now faces and one that emphasises even more why you need to be ready to respond quickly to media and other stakeholders before issues become crises.

What problem?

If you are unlucky enough to be the subject of bad press, you may be like many and breath a sigh of relief when it leaves the news cycle. However, what isn’t always as well understood is that it only leaves the news pages until a similar issue or crisis occurs. It then raises its ugly head again as the new event is compared with the earlier one.

United Airlines is currently suffering this fate only days after it left the news headlines for it’s disastrous handling of ‘passenger-gate.” A similar incident on an American Airlines flight has now hit the news, and guess who is prominent in all the media stories about it. You guessed it; United.

The same thing happened in the New Zealand media recently when one piece of bad student behaviour was compared to another incident about a week earlier.

If the second case occurs soon after the first, there is a huge likelihood they will be compared. But even if it was some time ago, this can continue on for years. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in 1989 is often still referred to whenever a crisis is handled badly. BP took some pressure off Exxon in 2011 with it’s response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

What does this mean for you?

This means a badly handled crisis or issue can damage you for years. Also don’t forget that news of it is likely to dominate Google when people search for information about your company.

The only answer is a Crisis Communication Plan and media interview skills. This way you can get onto issues before they become serious crises and respond to them properly in the media before speculation takes over and makes them out to be far worse than they are. 

Most clients call this an insurance policy on their reputation. Would you survive bad media on an issue important to your target market? Could you handle the negative stories on Google? Remember that with a bad reputation, business will drop off, or even become non-existent.

A crisis for you may be quite different and lower profile to the ones discussed here. These big companies usually recover, despite share prices sometimes dropping by billions initially.

The question to ask yourself is, “Would I survive is X happened or if Y happened.” If X or Y would impact your bottom line, you need to be prepared. It’s no different from insuring your house or business against fire damage.

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Written by

Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

Add a comment2 Comments

Reply Chris Christoff | April 24th, 2017 at 7:11pm
Pete, how will a crisis comms plan help? Will the press say what they are going to say anyway? Won't they still compare against similar incidents?
Reply Pete Burdon (Author) | April 25th, 2017 at 10:25am
Great questions Chris. When the crisis first hits, the media will come to you for comment. If you don't already have a statement prepared (on the off-chance it's needed), the media will just say you refused to comment. Then that story will go through social media and people will assume you either don't care or have something to hide. Those pre-prepared statements are one element of your plan. If you don't know how to control the flow of information, including knowing how to get your message through in media interviews and other channels, you will be be misquoted, quoted out of context, or the media will go elsewhere for their sources. But you will have an opportunity to do this because the media need a story and you are the obvious source. It's when you are uncooperative or refuse to apologise when you should that the big problems start.

You are right that media will compare anyway, but if you get onto the crisis early, sometimes you can shut it down before it becomes a crisis. If it is still big and you are prepared to handle it, you will have some control over how it's reported and that coverage won't be nearly as bad. There should be lots of other elements in your crisis communication plan like staff guidelines, what to do in what situations, lists and contact details of important stakeholder groups, INCLUDING THE MEDIA. Often it's best to be proactive and contact the media yourself, situation dependent. The best way to deal with these things is usually to be open and transparent. Reputations are damaged more when you refuse to front up or take responsibility when you should.

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