Does Your Crisis Management Team Suck at Public Relations?

public relations

Don’t Let Poor Public Relations Sink Your Ship

Have you ever heard of the term, ‘perimeter-itis?’  If you aren’t from rural Manitoba, you may not have heard of this before. In a nutshell, it’s a term used by many rural Manitobans to describe what they feel is a condition plagued by many officials who reside in the capital city, Winnipeg.  They believe that many officials (government and otherwise) forget that the province extends past the perimeter of the city. It’s an understandable complaint, as those who reside outside of Winnipeg often have a hard time getting access to many services and programs considered a ‘given’ to those who live in the city, and little attention is often given to rural problems and challenges.

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This “meme” placed on Facebook had hundreds of shares, which shows the power that social media can have on your public relations campaign.

Perimeter-itis was on the tongues of many people living in rural Manitoba and Saskatchewan this past summer as they struggled to clean up from the extensive floods that ravished the countryside.  As many farmers and communities worked tirelessly to deal with the damage that the flood had wreaked on their homes and land, they learned that the government had suddenly requested that the military be called in to help a separate community closer to Winnipeg that was going to be affected by the floods. This sudden call to the military put a bad taste in the mouths of many rural people, as when their requests for such help were made, they were all but ignored.  Many people commented that the politicians only showed up for a photo op and left immediately after—a bitter pill to swallow, given that these communities generate a significant amount of revenue for the provincial piggy bank.

So there are a few things to talk about here, with regards to how agencies should deal with situations like this.  In this case, it’s the government who is in the hot seat, but during emergency situations it could very well be a small or large company taking the brunt of the heat.

How well you respond to crisis situations or times when your actions are questioned can ultimately make or break your future, so it is vital to respond quickly and effectively. Have a Public Relations Plan.

It is also important to note that times are changing.  Years ago a few disgruntled customers or community members may not have had a big impact on the success or demise of a company.  They may have complained in the coffee shops with their buddies, but that’s about it.  The birth of the internet, however, has meant that anyone who knows how to click a mouse has a voice—a very large and loud voice at that.

Take, for example, the case of Take United Airlines. You may have heard of country artist Dave Carroll.  His guitar was broken on a United flight in 2008 and when the staff at the airline didn’t respond with compassion or assistance, he wrote and performed a song entitled, “United Breaks Guitars.”  The YouTube video went viral instantly, getting 150,000 views in the first day alone and getting 5 million hits in approximately one month.  And did this have an effect on the company? You bet your guitar strings it did.  Within 4 days of the video being posted, United stock prices dropped 10%, which cost the stockholders about $180 million.  That’s a lot of money for refusing to admit your mistake. Public relations at its worst.

Here is the video that had such a profound effect on the company:

Dave Carroll is one person and in just a few short weeks he was able to make a powerful impact on the company just by posting a video.

Public Relations Lesson 1: One creative person with a bit of initiative can make a big difference.

Here’s another story for you.  The fall of 1982 saw a number of mysterious deaths in Chicago’s west side.  Seven to be exact.  It was quickly discovered that capsules of Tylenol had been laced with 65 milligrams of cyanide, enough to kill someone very quickly.  And although it has been determined that the capsules had not been contaminated at the plant but instead after they had reached Illinois, the leaders at Johnson & Johnson Co (who owned Tylenol) went into quick action. Instead of adopting a defensive “we’re not to blame” attitude, they immediately pulled all of the Tylenol off the shelves and informed the nation not to resume using Tylenol until they had deemed it safe, a move that cost them over 100 million dollars.  And when they did bring Tylenol back onto the market they also introduced a new safety measure that would prevent another incident like what happened in Chicago.  Their new tamper-resistant, triple seal format ensured that consumers would never have to wonder if the capsules they were taking had been contaminated again.

Many in the industry predicted the fall of the Tylenol empire when the 7 Chicago deaths occurred, yet because of their quick thinking and compassionate response, Tylenol came back bigger and stronger than before.


Public Relations Lesson 2: People need to know you care.

The leaders at Johnson and Johnson took responsibility for what happened, showed that they cared about their victims and consumers and then took action to ensure it never happened again. Their compassion saved their company.

So these are pretty simple lessons, I will admit.  People need to know that your agency will stand up and be accountable for what was done (or not done), and that you care.  Good public relations is all about building relationships with people.  And, if you do mess up, always remember, that these days even the smallest numbers of people can accomplish great things.  Remember the old story David and Goliath?  Well, David has YouTube and Facebook now, and that is some damn good ammo.

Now let’s get back to the floods on the Canadian Prairies.  I’m not entirely sure why the military wasn’t called out to help the people in western Manitoba and Eastern Saskatchewan, but it is pretty clear that the people out there feel a bit hurt.  They have had a rough time out there—the damage was significant, and many of them feel all but abandoned by their government—the very people who should be stepping up to the plate and helping them out.  As Maya Angelou says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

If you make your people feel abandoned, unimportant and neglected, you can bet they won’t support you.  This goes for commercial businesses and elections.  And if I were to have a beer with Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger I’d say, “Greg, you need to rethink your public relations strategy. Those people out west need to know you give a damn about them.  You need to put your big boy pants on, admit that you dropped the ball and make it up to them.”

Just like Johnson & Johnson in the Tylenol crisis, you need to make this right.

Because, somewhere, someday, someone will get fired up and use YouTube to take you down.

Edge Safety Solutions is proud to announce that we are currently developing an online Flood Safety Training Package.  Click here if you are interested in learning more about our flood safety training. 

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