…and what we can learn from both.
By Michael Merali
It’s been said that any publicity is good publicity; however, anyone who’s spent some time in this industry can beg to differ. There are definitely such things as “good” and “bad” PR. So how do we define each?
The real definitions are some really obscure marketing terms we use when we huddle in dark corners to scheme up our latest ideas, but to keep it simple, I’m going to take a look at a more recent PR blunder and one of the biggest PR successes of 2011 in the hopes that we all can learn something from the two cases.
We’re all pretty aware of the incident in Italy involving Costa Cruises. Now that the incident has begun to fade from the front pages of the news media we can begin to explore not only the company’s, but also the parent company’s PR response. Let me start with the company itself, then move back into the more broad response. In the immediate days following the disaster, communication from Costa was poor at best; updates were provided on a daily, sometimes bi-daily basis. Crisis time, for any firm, is a time to step up, not shut down as the line appeared to have done. Bloggers on the internet provided more up to date information than the cruise line. Even further up the chain of command, the parent company, Carnival Corporation & plc. shuttered social media accounts for the flagship cruise line (Carnival Cruise Lines), which had been posting condolences and some updates, and went silent. Many people (both in PR and consumers) criticized the lack of information and accountability.
Now, what could Carnival and Costa have done better? Clearly, the PR nightmare that ensued was not going to be quelled easily nor was it the proper response on behalf of the company. Instead of being open about the incident and passing along information, the companies decided to go “silent” and allow the media to run rampant with speculation. Statements were issued, retracted, then reissued throughout the following weeks. What the company should have done was to be as open as legally possible about the situation, allowed the parent company to take over, and maintained a constant steady stream of information about the situation.
Even the smallest bit of bad PR can ruin a company’s reputation. So how do you turn bad PR into good PR? We can look to Southwest for a good example of a well converted PR response. Customer B.J. Schone took a rather unusual approach when his bag showed up damaged after a flight… he made a website and a picture letter (seehttp://www.dearswa.com/index.html). Southwest responded fairly promptly with a tweet that their customer service team would be in touch shortly. The Southwest response turned out to be nothing short of personal, and in good form (seehttp://dearswa.com/swa-response.html). Not only was this a personal approach, it was also appropriately apologetic. Ultimately, they changed not just one customer’s perception, but the general perception about the company in a positive manner through a very well thought out PR move that was executed promptly.
What did we learn from these two cases? A lot. First, going silent in a moment of crisis will end badly… no matter what. Second, presentation of a united front between parent and subsidiary, or, in the case of small business, owner and company, means a lot to the average consumer. Finally, bad PR can become good PR if the proper response if made.
2012 holds a lot of opportunity; Don’t let your business fall into the trap of poor communication. Take the initiative to communicate with your customers and clients frequently and appropriately.