Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating A Plan 8

Last time, I went through a crisis scenario – one that I dealt with myself, involving glamour models, murder and steak and chips (this is what I love about this industry – that fact that you couldn’t dream most of this stuff up if you tried) – on a gene-molecule level.

Well, in fairness, I probably missed loads, but I hope it gave an idea of the questions you need to ask, the things you need to prepare and the actions you need to take in the event of a crisis – involving customers, media, emergency services and staff – happening to you. I hope I also managed to communicate a) just how full-on it all is and b) the fact that loads of people are – and should be – involved. If any of this is news to you – go back and have another look at it.

This time, I want to do a fly-past of three incidents – not all mine and all very different – each of which contains a key learning that might help in the future when you’re in the middle of it. (I can’t reinforce this enough – it’s not a question of ‘if’, dear blog snorkellers, it’s a question of ‘when’. It IS going to happen to you.)

The first one is the Kegworth air disaster. For those who don’t know, Kegworth is a small English village in the county of Leicestershire, not terribly far away from the M1 motorway, a main arterial road link. In January 1989, a British Midland 737-400 passenger aircraft crashed some few hundred yards short of the runway at East Midlands airport, into an embankment of the motorway, killing 47 people. “A remarkable” 79 people survived however and, as you can imagine, the media were all over it like a rash – let’s face it, a passenger plane, in bits, lying on a motorway makes good television.

No doubt about it – this was a disaster both in terms of the incident and for British Midland the company. All sorts of stuff came out – the plane, for example, had recently had some upgrades and the pilots had had something like one half-hour briefing on the changes. The cause of the crash was a problem with one of the engines – the pilots shut the wrong one down, turning the aircraft into a 50-tonne glider. It was messy, and yet the company’s reputation survived – thanks to the actions taken by its chairman. It seemed like minutes, but it must have been hours, when Michael Bishop first appeared on the scene. He went straight up to the media and said (something like) “this is a dreadful incident, and we’ll get to the bottom of it as quickly as we can – in the meantime, I’ve got to go and help those people” and off he went towards the ‘plane. In that moment, he swung public opinion on to his side, on to the side of the company. Sheer brilliance.

Secondly, we have a product recall situation at a brewery. The ‘contamination’ of one particular batch of a very famous beer product was reported by quality control in the brewhouse – because of a worn component in the pipes, bacteria had escaped the regular cleaning process and were present when the beer travelled through the lines. Unfortunately, such was the turnaround time that the batch in question (amounting to as many as 1 million pints) was already in pubs and shops nationwide.

‘Contamination’ is such a strong word, don’t you think? What was really wrong with the beer? Well, actually, as it turns out, nothing, other than it may taste a bit funny – no-one was going to be made ill, no-one would be shouting Ralph in a pub car park, in fact – whisper it – no-one might actually notice.

We were prepared to do the recall and we were ready for all the fall-out. In the end, it was much, much simpler – and much, much cheaper – not to. The point is that one should always think through every situation before taking the obvious course of action. Sometimes you’re better off not doing anything.

Finally, Domino’s Pizza on YouTube. Well, you can read my post on it. Some say they handled their crisis well, others say they didn’t. Certainly, following on from the incident, their UK team has made a little hay while the sun was shining (or otherwise). It’s an ill wind, as they say. The reason I cite this here is because this was one of the first incidents that was created by social media and which – rightly or wrongly, to a greater or lesser extent – was dealt with via social media.

The point is that whether we like social media or not – and I don’t – it has changed the landscape of communications and the way that information gets around. It is a threat and (apparently) an opportunity – what’s certain is that social media needs to be dealt with in your crisis management plan – and I’ll get to this next time

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