By Mark Macias
If your business faces a crisis in communications, you need an experienced crisis manager.
During my time as an Investigative Producer, Executive Producer with NBC and Senior Producer with CBS in New York, I had an insider view on how to manage the crisis. I was literally publishing the crisis, giving me unique insight on how to manage the bad news.
Crisis communications typically also involves a pattern of coverage and once you understand it, you will have a better grasp of managing the negative news.
Crisis Communications Case Study
On February 14th, 2007– Valentines Day of all days – a snowstorm blanketed the Northeast. Every major airline grounded their flights, but for more than a week, JetBlue was at the center of a negative media firestorm.
The problem: Jetblue kept passengers on the tarmac for several hours, and flight attendants refused to let them off, even though their flight was obviously not going anywhere.
Angry passengers quickly took pictures of themselves inside the cramped cabins and shared them on social media. Other savvy Jetblue passengers called the TV news organizations while they were locked inside the plane. They complained on live TV of inhumane conditions. Some passengers said they couldn’t go to the bathroom and weren’t given any food.
Crisis Communications Lesson
Jetblue Airlines did everything wrong when it came to managing the message. The airline took several days to respond to the accusations that they treated their customers like animals. And by the time Jetblue did respond, it was too late because most consumers had already made up their minds.
Jetblue could have better managed the message if it would have engaged in a more aggressive PR strategy. I would have advised Jetblue to immediately address the customer service problem and communicate it directly with the media.
I would have led an aggressive crisis communications strategy, telling Jetblue to go on the offensive with the media, reminding journalists that weather delays are outside of their control. The airline should have admitted a few flight attendants made a wrong decision, but Jetblue was going to reward those passengers with a free airline flight to any city where the airline flies. It was a small amount to pay for redirecting the negative news.
Reporters need angry customers expressing their feelings. By offering a financial incentive for their poor customer service, Jetblue would have silenced most of its critics. And if a story lacks angry characters, the drama quickly fades.
It’s a pattern of coverage, and once you understand how that coverage is transcribed, you will have a better grasp of managing any crisis situation.
Macias PR was named the 2017 Strategic PR Firm of the Year and 2016 and 2015 top PR Firm of the Year – USA by Finance Monthly. The founder – Mark Macias – is a former Executive Producer with NBC and Senior Producer with CBS in New York. He is also a PR contributor with CNBC, providing media analysis, insight and crisis advice on timely business topics.