Motorcycle Diaries: The best crisis is the one you avoid and that comes from great PR when it’s calm

If only we could read this motorcycle’s diary.

Much of crisis management is about timing and planning. One sure way to bolster your chances of surviving a crisis is by strengthening your reputation at every turn when it’s quiet, so your reputation is better fortified against a gusty crisis.

Then there’s the great public relations opportunity that drifts 4,000 miles across an ocean and literally falls in your lap. This rusty motorcycle may not look like a PR godsend, but that’s what it is.

The short version of the story is that when the quake and tsunami struck Japan in March 2011, killing thousands, debris started drifting eastward across the Pacific. A Styrofoam-lined crate containing a Harley-Davidson motorcycle landed on a distant island near Vancouver, BC last month.

The Japanese consulate traced the owner and, drum roll, Harley offered to ship the bike back to Japan and return it to mint condition — estimated to cost twice the original purchase price.

As my partner Tom Merrick found in sharing this great yarn, authorities managed to find whose bike it was based on plates and VIN … and the guy had miraculously survived the disaster. Unlike his home and a few of his family members.

The owner is Ikuo Yokoyama, a 29-year-old resident of the town of Yamamoto, in Miyagi Prefecture, earthquake central. A Harley-Davidson representative in Japan who saw the story, first reported by CBC News, in the media tracked him down.

It’s reputation-enhancing PR for many reasons, not the least of which is the good-feel story for a nation and individual survivors like Yokoyama who suffered so much. There’s a restorative, life-goes-on message.

Doing something “nice” for him appeals to the human spirit. And in the context of an enormous global tragedy, the one-to-one human contact between the bike’s finder, Peter Mark, and Yokoyama feels good.

Also, while Harley would never say so, it’s quite a testament to the bike’s American workmanship — in the land of Suzuki and Yamaha crotchrockets — that the bike survived a year of salt water, rain and seaweed in a partially open storage container.

Harley’s a hero and the social media universe is sharing the happy ending. And social media trackers may recall this in its approach to Harley if it screws up one day and slips into crisis.


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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