A reminder of the importance of crisis communication

I have been watching with interest the unfolding aftermath of the tragic case of the two children that died on holiday. It is terrible and the thoughts of everyone are with the parents who have had such a horrific experience that has changed their lives. They had been planning a fun family holiday that turned into a nightmare. As the inquest took place my thoughts were with them as they had to relive the experience.

However, as a communicator the aftermath and the handling of the situation by Thomas Cook has been interesting to watch. The company have been out of step throughout the past few weeks and seem to be completely misreading the nation’s mood. I watched a TV news report tonight where the company stated that they had not seen any reduction in bookings so far. It may have been the media interpretation that made it appear so stark but it again appeared the company were more concerned with business than with people.

Nowadays reputation can be lost at the touch of a button. It is much easier than in the years of Ratners to see your company disappear because of an ill-thought through comment, statement or action. People can now share their disgust or hatred in an instant and gain support.

One survey this morning on breakfast television found that a third of people would not want to book a holiday with Thomas Cook after the recent publicity. This is where the decision-making around the compensation, the donation of half of it, failing to apologise and their approach will start to hit the business. The key for me is that they failed to recognise the human element of the situation. People should have been at the centre of their approach and in that most importantly the couple left without their children.

It is yet another reminder of how important the response to a crisis is. Not just what you do but what you say. I appreciate that many communicators working in-house or in agencies may not have faced such a crisis in their career but this is why they need to be prepared. It is vital to consider approaches, to discuss the key issues and of course to look to others for advice when a crisis emerges. Failing to do this could mean the difference between a company existing or going out of business.

My question to all professional communicators is when was the last time you considered how you would deal with a reputational crisis? Perhaps you should.

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5 Responses to A reminder of the importance of crisis communication

  1. Ben Roome says:

    Never assume that the communications response to a crisis is led by communications leaders and teams. What Thomas Cook exposes is not a lack of crisis comms expertise in the company. For all I know, comms leaders may have proposed a far more appropriate and sensitive approach from the start. Crisis comms (in my experience) falls down because of poor judgement, leadership and comms nous from operational leaders and lawyers. The missteps have come from the previous and current CEO. Company values always come from the top. Successful communications leaders are the ones that ensure they’re operating in an environment where they are trusted to take the lead on comms whatever occurs.

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    • amandacomms1 says:

      Hi Ben, I appreciate that may be the case which is why I say that regular discussion of crisis communication plans is important. If there was a more regular discussion then the situation could be challenged including with operational leads and lawyers.

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  2. Pingback: All Things IC | Is Thomas Cook’s sunny heart now broken?

  3. Louise Douglas says:

    A sincere and timely apology would have stopped this escalating. The crisis was created by the poor response of the CEO not the initially tragedy

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  4. Pingback: Making ‘sorry’ the hardest word will choke you | hellywho

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