The actions of Alton Towers in the aftermath of the rollercoaster accident illustrated how companies shouldn’t react after a PR crisis.
The limits of PR
PR is a valuable tool for online reputation management because positive press can rank highly on Google. The search engine views local and national news sources as reliable sources of information, so its algorithm can rank them highly on a search for your company name in Google.
Yet there are limits to what PR can do, and these limits were demonstrated by the Smiler rollercoaster crash at theme park Alton Towers in 2015. It left people with life changing injuries – one woman even had to have her leg amputated. A disaster of this scale was always going to hit the headlines and impact Alton Towers’ online reputation; no amount of pro-active positive PR could prevent this.
Making it worse
However, once disaster has stuck, you can utilise PR to engage in damage limitation. This will not prove effective though, if your company does something in the aftermath of the PR disaster that makes the problem worse.
The Daily Star reported that Alton Towers was caught selling provocative t-shirts that said “Ride Me” to girls. This would have been disastrous enough on a normal day, but considering the fact that people had ridden a rollercoaster that had recently crashed, it was particularly bad timing.
The incident blew up online; users on Netmums were particularly angry. Then, Alton Towers really stuck their foot in it. They told parents on Twitter that there were no plans to remove any of the products that are emblazoned with the “Ride Me” slogan. Their social media spokesman said: “These T-shirts are part of our ‘adrenaline junkie’ range of products and the message reflects the experiences at the park;” words which didn’t exactly go down well.
Walking back an apology
However, Alton Towers isn’t the only company to react badly to a PR Crisis; earphone brand BassBuds are guilty as well. They were confronted with a PR crisis in 2014, when three of the people who invaded the Tottenham Hotspur football pitch were caught wearing t-shirts emblazoned with their company’s logo.
Paul Sutton, Head of Digital Communications at PR agency Bottle explained the incident to PR Moment. Sutton said: “The brand was quick to condemn the activity on Twitter, but later issued a statement that, while stating that it did not authorise the pitch invasions, also confirmed that it did have a working relationship with Trollstation, the pranking group in question.
“With Tottenham likely to be fined heavily by UEFA, the Club has removed all BassBuds products and brand mentions from the shop and website and may launch legal action. Whether or not BassBuds is, or should be, responsible, and to what extent, is debatable. But either way, it’s a stark reminder that brand reputation extends way beyond a company itself now.”
When it goes wrong
Another example is the Malaysian authorities’ response to the tragic crash of flight MH370. They recognised that they needed to do something and they sent what was almost assuredly a heartfelt response to the victims of the crash on social media; it went down like a lead balloon.
Tim Luckett, global crisis co-lead at PR agency H+K Strategies explained to PR Moment: “The response from relatives was universally negative to the perceived impersonal nature of the communication. It was certainly a modern channel, but it was the wrong one. Communicators will continue to struggle in this fast moving age of social media to understand which channels to use, and this example is a stark reminder of how the wrong choice can have huge impact on reputation.”
How to respond to a PR crisis
The truth is that many companies face a PR crisis at some point in their tenures and as these examples show, if you react in the wrong way it can cause irreparable damage to your firm’s reputation online. Here are a few tips that you can use to help you react to a PR disaster:
- Don’t stay silent: Whatever you do, respond! Staying silent won’t make the problem go away, it’ll only inspire people to keep discussing the incident on social media. The longer you leave your response, the more damage you’ll cause to your online reputation.
- Be extra careful: Alton Towers responded in the right way; right up until they refused to stop selling “Ride Me” t-shirts. All eyes will be turned to your company after a PR crisis, so you need to be especially careful how you act so you don’t make the problem worse.
- Assess the situation: The Malaysian authorities tried, they really did. However, a “heartfelt” apology on a social media channel wasn’t the right response to the accident. You need to assess the situation, if you’re going to respond to a PR crisis in a manner which won’t fan the flames of reputation-damaging anger online.
- Take preventative steps: If you get preventative you can limit the damage of a PR crisis. The preventative steps you can take include use of Google alerts to monitor mentions of your name online, performing regular safety checks and brainstorming PR disaster responses ahead of time, so your firm can deploy them at a moment’s notice.
Online reputation management
At Igniyte, we utilise an online reputation management service that gives companies the tools they need to respond effectively to a PR crisis to ensure it doesn’t damage their firm’s reputation online.
If you want to find out more about Igniyte’s online reputation management services please contact Simon Wadsworth on tel: +44 (0) 203 542 8686 or email firstname.lastname@example.org in confidence.