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Speak First or Forever Lose your Crisis Message

By Katie Paine for PRNews

Anyone who has studied crisis communications knows, “he/she who speaks first owns the narrative.” Once bad news breaks, whether it is a self-inflicted crisis, accident or natural disaster, there’s a sequence that all crises follow. Something happens, the news media finds out about it and starts asking questions, and whoever answers those questions first gets to shape the narrative of what happened.

When Southwest Airlines cancelled thousands of flights over the Christmas holidays, leaving passengers and crew stranded all over the U.S., it was the head of the Pilot’s union that first started answering questions and pointing the finger at the airline’s outdated computer system that union members had complained about for years. The narrative focused the blame on corporate decision makers that failed to upgrade the system. As a result, the COO (CEO Bob Jordan was a no-show) spent many uncomfortable hours in front of a congressional committee hearing doing mea culpas and promising to overhaul the systems.

Norfolk Southern

A similar scenario is playing out in East Palestine, Ohio in the wake of the Norfolk Southern train derailment. The unions were quick to blame management, painting them as reluctant to invest in improvements and over-taxing the workers for the sake of profit.

Employees began leaking examples of the company’s lax safety policies to the media. Within days, elected officials called for hearings on whether the railroad industry sacrificed safety for profits. Reporters dug into the company’s lavish lobbying and advertising expenditures, intended to weaken safety rules. Compounding the problem, the company issued statements but failed to show up at a town-hall meeting, which infuriated local residents, who were happy to voice their complaints and concerns to reporters on the scene.

When the bad news didn’t go away, the company finally decided to speak publicly in what was seen as a “blitz,” designed to blame the media and politicians for misinformation.  For more, click here.

Image by GooKingSword from Pixabay

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