Crisis management forms a sizeable portion of the work PR professionals do, and although we pray it’s never needed, the process, especially when a life-threatening tragedy occurs, needs to be handled sensitively, professionally and swiftly.
This week, a terrible crash on The Smiler at Alton Towers left four people seriously injured. From a PR’s perspective, it is our job to support the client or brand in such a crisis, while ensuring those involved are handled graciously, which is why we have great admiration for the Alton Towers PR team, which has, so far, handled the terrible incident in an original and effective way.
Often, when a crisis hits, companies tend to have a habit of backing away from responsibility and show little signs of emotion. Consider Thomas Cook for example, who issued an apology nearly ten years after the deaths of two children who had been unlawfully killed at one of the firm’s resorts. The law ruled that Thomas Cook had breached its duty of care, yet chief executive, Peter Fankhauser’s told the inquest that his company had “nothing to apologise for”.
In contrast, Alton Towers has been quick to show compassion following the incident on The Smiler. The statement released was also refreshingly honest.
Ian Crabbe, divisional director at Alton Towers said the whole team at the park was “devastated” by the incident and continued, “Our thoughts and main concerns and focus are with injured people and the 16 people that were stuck on the train and their immediate families. That is our major concern.” The social media channels and website are being regularly updated and the theme park also made the decision to close the business yesterday, and again today.
As experts in crisis management, we always follow the news to see how other brands handle and react to an emergency. We’re also conscious that all organisations can be vulnerable to crisis.
We’ve put together a few pointers to dealing with an unexpected crisis:
– Prior to any crisis, identify your spokesperson and ensure that they are media trained. The spokesperson should be an authoritative figure in the company.
– Do your research first – It’s better to intentionally slow the pace of the story rather than release an ill-considered statement.
– Develop a holding statement and provide detailed information – if you don’t, someone else will!
– Be honest and compassionate.
– Continually monitor reaction (24/7) and respond as needed.
– Regularly update your stakeholders and media throughout the crisis.
– Consider all channels of communication – not everyone reads the papers, so publish your statement on social media and the business’s website too.
We wish the victims of The Smiler crash a speedy recovery.
Read the full statement from Alton Towers here