Southwest, Target and river polluter effectiveness, as Chris Christie turns on a spit


Especially on the day we commemorate the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we should not forget this country’s longest-running crisis — its lack of racial equality. There’s certainly been progress, but we’re not there yet.

While the political world focused on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” lately, other major crises played themselves out with varied results.

The West Virginia chemical company that leaked chemicals into a Charleston river went bankrupt; a Southwest jet landed at the wrong Arkansas airport, seven miles from its scheduled destination; the Target credit card hack multiplied again and again; and Neiman Marcus admitted hackers victimized its credit card list as well.

A good piece in PRNews, spied by my EMA colleague Allison Conte, compares the responses of polluter Freedom Industries and Southwest.

Here’s Southwest’s statement:

“We are cooperating with authorities in this investigation. We want to thank first responders and Branson Airport Administrators for joining in the work with our ground operations staff to immediately take care of our Customers and their baggage last night. We have since reached out to each Customer directly to apologize, refund their tickets, and provide future travel credit as a gesture of goodwill for the inconvenience.”

What’s the most important ingredient in that effective statement? Last night.

When media heard about the story, the statement was ready to go. Facts fast. It’s great that tickets were refunded and gifts given, but the speedy response helped most.

Contrast that with Freedom, whose president managed to bring the crisis to an even hotter boil at a recalcitrant news conference, as I noted last week.

The PRNews story reported:

A visit to the company’s website shows no mention of the spill or what the company is doing in response the damage.

Although the story is still developing, Freedom has betrayed a dim view of the importance of public relations.

Indeed, on Sunday Charles Ryan Associates, a local PR agency hired by Freedom, abruptly dropped the chemical company as a client.

Likely the PR firm bailed because the company was going to declare bankruptcy.

Jennifer Byrd, national public relations director of The Salvation Army, offered some good advice:

> Keep your stakeholders in the impacted region informed.

> Have spokespeople strategically situated and the media briefed. This is to engage directly with the media and help tell the story through social media.

> Send a fact sheet and/or press release daily.

> Stock up your website with information.

> Keep a two-way connection. Have constant communications between people at the company’s headquarters with people on the ground.

And, do it all as rapidly, transparently and frequently as possible.

Which brings us full circle to Target.

Even if we grant that the hacking scandal took a lot of work to assess, Target’s response time is pathetic. No one expects to have a complete report the day after a crisis event. But provide whatever facts you can.

If the Target hack were first discovered Nov. 27, saying so before Dec. 19, as Target lamely did, would have saved millions of people from using their credit cards at Target stores. [Which then leads to speculation that that's exactly what Target wanted to avoid.]

It was only Jan. 12 that Target’s CEO did national interviews and the next day that explanatory ads began running in large newspapers. That’s a month after the breach went public. Like Southwest, get the information out, even in bits and pieces, as fast as possible.

As for Christie, the large fissure in his armor is leading to additional allegations and attacks. Politicians and the media who cover them sense vulnerability like soaring hawks see field mice meals. SNL parodied the governor over the weekend and the horizon looks decidedly unsettled.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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