Crisis Communications and Management

Q: What’s worse than an unanticipated crisis?

A: A poor crisis response strategy.

The popular and chic W Austin Hotel and recent home of Austin City Limits Studios recently had an accident when two glass panels fell more than 20 stories from the balconies into the pool, injuring four guests.

McQuade, the hotel manager, wrote a letter to hotel guests stating, “we feel badly for those injured,” and said he felt fortunate there were not more people hurt. The reasons for the panels breaking are unknown and guests are advised not to use their balconies until further notice. But is this crisis response strategy enough? Is this even a strategy at all?

If a balcony panel fell 25 stories on you while swimming on your weekend get away, and you received a measly apology letter, what would you think?

What are the do’s and don’t of crisis management? How do you regain consumer trust?

Here’s a brief list of how to act in the aftermath of a crisis!

  • DO act with transparency and immediacy
  • DON’T be the second party to explain what happened, the 1st sets the stage
  • DO fully apologize—”It’s our fault”
  • DON’T shift blame
  • DON’T behave as the victim
  • DON’T offer excuses
  • DON’T justify what happened
  • DON’T disassociate your company from the crisis
  • DO declare the cause of the crisis the strategized steps you will take to resolve it
  • DO constantly keep your public informed with updated information
  • DO state how this event will affect the future behavior and improvement of your company
  • DO practice restitution—making amends by compensating the victims or restoring the situation
  • DO offer new incentives for consumers to remain loyal
  • DO go above and beyond in the affected community—show corporate social responsibility and practice strategic philanthropy by participate in services related to your crisis
  • DON’T practice strategic ambiguity—refusing to directly answer questions and taking a public stand, this will often raise ethical questions
  • DON’T attack the media
  • DON’T keep contact with affected victims minimal
  • DON’T forget that your employees are major PR reps

This article describes the June 10th glass panel incident and was written prior to two more disasters that occurred at various W hotels; at the W Hotel in Midtown Atlanta, two women fell through glass windows, and at the Austin location last week, three panels fell more than 20 stories into the street.

The W Hotel issued a statement that the “entire team couldn’t be more devastated,” but they “still do not know why this has happened.” The hotel has been open a mere 7 months and is closed in order to replace nearly 1,000 glass panels. Among a plethora of problems, the series of W Hotel incidents demonstrates weak systems of risk management and crisis communication that could lead to the failure of a $300 million high rise built in the last year.

This DOs and DON’Ts list of crisis communication provides the go-to basics of how to behave while resolving your crisis, but as we all know, one of the best ways to improve oneself is to learn from others’ mistakes. If you’re looking for a real-life example for guidance, look up the classic and successful crisis-response strategy of the 1982 Tylenol cyanide poisoning. Johnson & Johnson’s PR response epitomizes the ideal crisis response strategy and should serve as a leading example for companies to follow in the midst of a crisis.

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