If you’ve followed this series through parts one to six, then you’ll know that I’ve promised some examples of real scenarios which (I hope) will illustrate the points I’ve tried to make. At the very least, you’ll be able to decide whether you would have done it better, which may get you thinking. As I’ve said before – this isn’t meant to be the definitive, one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of formulating a crisis management plan – this is the seed and it needs the fertilizer of your thoughts. So here you are – the following example is real, and one I dealt with personally:
2130, Friday night. Call comes in via the company’s main switchboard from one of its restaurants, at which a fatal stabbing has just taken place. The restaurant is in the Liverpool area, the police are on site, a media enquiry has been received and it’s believed a journalist and photographer are en route. The suspected attacker is female, the victim male. The restaurant was roughly a quarter full when the incident occurred, and the manager evacuated those present immediately. Some have left, others remain outside. Six staff are on duty, one was serving the attacker and victim.
Questions? Has the area manager been notified and when will he arrive? Is there any further information available about the incident, the victim or the attacker that might help in formulating a corporate response? How are the emergency services dealing with the incident – they will have closed the restaurant – can they give us any idea of how long it may be closed for? How are the staff members reacting? Have they been reassured and offered support and/or counseling through the company’s HR resource? Was there any apparent trauma or upset amongst other guests – will we have to offer compensation in one form or another? Have the emergency services spoken with the guests who remain? When are the media expected, if they’re not there already?
Actions? Event is in Liverpool, HQ is in London – no member of the corporate communications team can be there within thirty minutes. Call area manager, ensure that a call has been put into the Ops Director, who can escalate upwards to the executive committee or board, as deemed appropriate. Area manager, already media trained, is briefed to handle media enquiries, using text of reserve statement – also liaises with emergency services.
Restaurant manager is briefed that neither he, nor his staff, are to talk to the media. Even if ‘doorstepped’ they are to say nothing more than ‘sorry, I’ve nothing to add’. Name and telephone number of on-call communicator to be supplied to all staff members, for giving to media if necessary. Restaurant manager (alone, not staff) briefed to deal with enquiries from public. Authorised to respond to guest complaints/issue with offer of refunds or discounted meals at other restaurants, plus provide central contact number for owning company, for further issues/complaints. As media will be prevented from accessing restaurant by emergency services, area manager authorised to supply ‘stock’ external restaurant shot – thus presenting premises in best light. Notify HR – HR to speak to individual staff members to offer support/counsel. Notify media monitoring agency to cut for media mentions of incident. Use holding statement, tailored to specific incident, to answer media enquiries. Assure media that, if there is anything further to say, that they will be contacted. Prepare incident report for circulation.
Outcome? Transpired that the attacker was a glamour model, out for dinner with her boyfriend. Following a minor argument, she picked up a steak knife and stabbed him – her aim was quite good, and he died from a single stab wound. Media coverage majored on the incident and the characters involved – no staff were interviewed, no statement was made other than the reserve statement, no spokespeople or employees were named. No other guests were involved, while one or two were interviewed by the media, they had nothing to add and thus did not contribute to the coverage. Staff members were all contacted and offered counselling, none took it up, but all were reassured of the company’s ‘duty of care’. A small minority of guests took the company up on its offer of refunds or discounted meals – this built customer relations. Media coverage limited to local press and brief mention on local radio. Restaurant re-opened after three weeks, with little fanfare – its business was undamaged.
OK – yes this is an isolated incident. Yes – it’s very out of the ordinary. Yes – it might be seen as reasonably straightforward and easy-to-handle. But it might have gone so very horribly wrong – and it didn’t. That’s a result, as far as I’m concerned.
I’ll do another example next time.