An Asiana Airlines Boeing 777.

If you don’t think a crisis could happen to you let’s look at two very different cases that both involved crisis management and a dire need for public relations/reputation management. Last week I touched on Paula Deen and her horrendous interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show after skipping out of her previously scheduled first interview. This week we have a more tragic example of a company in need of crisis communications, with the Asiana airplane crash in San Francisco.

Social media enables each of us to become citizen journalists. Any company that ignores that fact, is truly sticking their head in the sand in today’s society.Let’s look in-depth at the reaction to the Asiana airplane crash at SFO. A huge shout out of thanks to Jeff Domansky, the PR Coach, for connecting me with this superb SlideShare slide show from SimpliFlying, an aviation marketing firm.  This is a must-see for anyone interested in social media or in crisis communications.


According to the SimpliFlying timeline of the air crash,the first reaction was a tweet from a Google employee who saw the crash and sent her tweet one minute after the plane crash landed at San Francisco at 11:28 AM, Saturday, July 6, 2013. Journalists across the country clambered to interview that first tweeter. SimpliFlying credits the NTSB with staying on top of social media throughout the day, posting regular updates. (They’ve since had their own PR woes.) However, Asiana airlines did not respond with a press release until 8:43 PM that evening. In this case silence did in fact speak louder than words. The company was roundly criticized for not quickly making a statement to the media through Facebook or twitter.  The most interesting slide of all shows the stock price of Asiana Airlines plummeting as rumors were running rampant about their pilots lack of experience. So for those who don’t think social media matters, look at the bottom line.

Some takeaway tips from MarketingMel:

Whether you are Asiana Airlines or a business professional in East Tennessee,

1. Be prepared: Have a crisis communications plan in place. Incorporate a social media strategy as part of your crisis communications plan.

2. Always show empathy and concern for those involved. Tragically, school children lost their lives in this crash. Getting the CEO to San Francisco was a great start on that road.

3. Prepare three key messages: Remember that we humans think and remember in threes. Assess the situation, prepare your talking points and stay on message.

4. Tell the truth: Never fudge the facts. If you don’t yet know an answer find it out and then get back to your audience.

Remember that in today’s age of instant communications, timing is everything. The conversation will go on whether you are there or not so make sure your crisis communications plan is in place as part of your overall strategic planning. If you need help with your company’s crisis communications plan please contact me. I “cut my teeth” practicing for crises when I worked in public relations at a nuclear defense company. I have since helped attorneys and their clients as well as private corporations and public officials prepare for the unexpected.

What are your thoughts about the air crash and the way in which it was handled? How would you have handled it better?



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Screen Shot 2013-06-27 at 9.07.30 AMWhen The Food Network’s Southern cooking guru Paula Deen fell on her own sword during The Today Show I was actually on a family vacation at the beach. (Although I was basking in the sunshine and not near a TV  I began getting tweets saying the rotund Savannah, Georgia chef needed MarketingMel’s Crisis Communications help!)  So I popped up The Today Show interview on my laptop, watched with horror, and came up with the following hints for any client in crisis. Here’s what I would have urged Paula to do if she had been my client:

1- Have three (3) talking points and stick with them: People remember in threes. It’s an old writing and public speaking trick and it works. Example: I’m here to apologize, I’m here to make things right and I’m here to move forward. Then elaborate briefly on these.

2- Do NOT let the interviewer get you off track: Wow! Matt Lauer came out with guns ablaze but Paula should have been ready. After all she blew him off the week prior (see Bonus Tip.) However, you Paula, already have your three talking points prepared ahead and you will stick with them. Remember, the main thing’s the main thing! Stick with your key messages.

3- Show empathy: This is huge in any crisis. Someone or something is obviously hurt. Therefore show empathy to the one who has been “done wrong.” Example: “Years ago I made a mistake. Since that time I have ______ (fill in the blank to show how you have righted the wrong and you are now moving forward.) We’ve recently seen some politicians do this but guess what? At least two of them are back and running in New York City elections. If done right, the American people are pretty willing to accept a sincere apology. Last time I checked we all make mistakes.

Bonus Tip for Paula: Don’t blow off The Today Show the first time! You are a celebrity so your moves will be watched closely. Don’t arouse curiosity.

If you need help with your company’s crisis communications plan please contact me! I have years of experience, including my start in public relations in the nuclear industry, and would be glad to help you. 

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