More Errors Than Answers in Missing Flight Mystery

 More Errors Than Answers in Missing Flight Mystery

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Malaysian government and Malaysia Airlines. (Pictured: Hishamuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s Minister of Transport.)

At press time, the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was nearing its second week. As time goes by it seems the Malaysian government knows less, rather than more – and what was thought to be known is corrected.

As a NewYorker.com article details, the few facts on hand are fluid. There is the timing of the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, first reported as being turned off 12 minutes before the final communique from the cockpit. Now authorities admit they don’t know when it was switched off. The direction of the plane before it fell off radar was also wrong, costing time and untold millions in wasted search efforts. And while the crew and even passengers were initially not suspected as part of the disappearance, all, especially the pilot and co-pilot, are under intense scrutiny.

Relatives waiting for news of their family members have progressed from shocked to angry, shouting at Malaysian officials at press conferences. Some have become so mistrustful of the information being given, or withheld, that they’ve threatened a hunger strike. Experts, unable to guess what might have happened (with one quiet exception) can only agree on one thing: the Malaysian government has, in trying to handle this situation alone, prolonged and even contributed to the mystery.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Malaysian government.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: In times of disaster, opt for complete transparency. Had Malaysia accepted offered help from the United States and other governments, there might have been at the very least a few more iron-clad answers. Even the US and Russia collaborated at the Olympics to thwart terrorist threats. At this point experts are coming to the conclusion that we may never know what happened to Flight 370. The only thing anyone can be sure of is that in situations such as this, being secretive never pays.

Railroad CEO’s Vist a PR Disaster

 Railroad CEOs Vist a PR Disaster

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Rail World, Inc., and CEO Ed Burkhardt (center) for their perfect example of adding insult to injury.

Four days may not seem like a lot of time to most people. Yet for the citizens of Lac-Mégantic, a town in Quebec, Canada, four days was three too many. That’s how long it took Ed Burkhardt, CEO of Rail World, Inc., to visit the site where fuel-filled trains, owned by his company, derailed. A series of explosions resulted in part of the town being incinerated. Thousands were evacuated and fifteen fatalities were recorded, though dozens of people remain unaccounted for.

As days passed, the fires were put out, but not the anguish of townspeople. While questions as to the cause of the disaster were likely to remain unanswered until the wreckage could be examined, there was still no official representative from the company to come in and offer assistance, if not hard facts.

That is, until four days later. When Burkhardt  eventually made his way to Lac-Mégantic, the town had sufficient time to go from shock to anger. Burkhardt was heckled at his press conference, and the mayor debated whether to even meet with him. “I guess it’s my role to collect all this criticism,” Burkhardt said. It’s a role he brought on himself by waiting too long to show up.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Rail World, Inc., and CEO Ed Burkhardt for their perfect example of adding insult to injury.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When disaster strikes, take action. If your company is involved in risk-inherent business – say, transporting fuel on railways – prepare for the eventuality of trouble. PRs should have prepped Burkhardt to go to the disaster site the very next day. While he couldn’t give concrete answers, he could have assured the townspeople and the media that Rail World, Inc., would do everything it could to assist authorities. With every day’s delay, the company only looked more culpable and less caring: whether discussing train schedules or visits to disaster sites, timing is everything.

Facebook COO’s Post Crashes on Takeoff

sheryl sandberg Facebook COOs Post Crashes on Takeoff

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Go back 100 years: You’re ticketed on the Titanic, but at the last minute, you take a different ship. To let everyone know you’re OK after the star-crossed liner met its fate, do you A) write a letter, B) send a telegram, or C) hire an airplane and invent skywriting?

Pose that question to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. She and travel companions including her family were ticketed aboard the ill-fated Asiana 777 jet that crashed Saturday in San Francisco, killing two and injuring dozens. The Sandberg party switched flights at the last minute so she could use her flight miles for her family’s tickets. After the crash, Sandberg naturally turned to Facebook to post a message on her page to let people know she wasn’t on the plane. “Thank you to everyone who is reaching out – and sorry if we worried anyone. Serious moment to give thanks.”

Innocent and irreproachable, right? Not these days, not on the Internet, and not for so prominent a person. Her post drew 8,000 “Likes,” but elsewhere, the Twitterverse and news sites turned savage. “Sheryl Sandberg Successfully Makes SF Plane Crash About Herself,” one writer opined, further insinuating that it was for publicity at the tail end of her visit to South Korea to promote her best-selling book.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Sheryl Sandberg, for not checking with her internal compass, or maybe a corporate PR person paid to think about such things.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Shun association when tragedy strikes. Sandberg could have signalled the all’s-clear without publicly saying a word. In the personal reality show that is Facebook, she did what any of us would do. But doubtless few of us have over a million people following our posts. Nor does such a person have the luxury of removing a regrettable post. As the second most famous representative of the world’s most famous website, every public move has PR implications. Those who mattered most doubtless knew her post-crash status soon enough while for everyone else, the news could have waited until the fires on the tarmac were put out.

When Tragedy Strikes: Keep Calm, But Don’t Carry On

120720 aurora dp1 330a.photoblog500 150x150 When Tragedy Strikes: Keep Calm, But Dont Carry On

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Warner Bros.

America is reeling from the horror of the cinema shooting in Aurora, Colorado, last week, and news broadcasts continue to be saturated with coverage of the deadly event. The PR and marketing whizzes working on the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises must be wondering, where to now?

The juggernaut marketing and PR initiatives designed to promote the film and promote its cult status were already activated and in full play before the tragic shooting. Advance promotions were booked months ahead, as were the press tours, interviews, and PR programs. But when tragedy strikes, what is the appropriate response in the middle of a national tragedy?

Warner Bros. PR response so far, seems to be the best in a worst-case scenario. Director Christopher Nolan, the producers, and the cast have individually issued statements relaying their immense sadness and incomprehensibility at the turn of events. Warner Bros. has been rightfully low key, issuing a two-line statement restricted to talking about the victims and their families, to avoid any suggestion it is trying to salvage a now imperiled investment. Spot on. Next,  advertising was pulled, premieres and interviews halted, and box office receipt figures were withheld. All that was left to do was continue to express solidarity with the families of the deceased and the rest of the country, and wait.

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect). A well-handled and sensitive response to the unforeseen and unimaginable. With no handbook response available for such an event, this is ultimately a matter of common sense and taste.

The PR Takeaway: Individuals make the difference. With the director and stars of the film issuing their own statements, this tragic event remained clearly in the domain of the personal, and not about business or commercial interests.  The key priority in an emergency PR plan of this sort is to halt all promotional activity immediately, to avoid it running alongside a news story covering the same event. Definitely not business as usual. For now, this is  a national conversation, not a commercial exercise.

To read more, click here.

What’s your opinion of Warner Bros. response to the tragedy in Aurora? Give us your PR Verdict.

Why Are Rebekah And Her Friends Still In Trouble?

rebekahbrooks 300x168 Why Are Rebekah And Her Friends Still In Trouble?

The PR Verdict: “F” for a crisis strategy that is failing.

Rebekah Brooks, former CEO of News International and best buddy of Rupert and James Murdoch has been arrested for the second time.  Previously arrested last year, she is hitting the headlines again for all the wrong reasons. This time speculation is that the arrest concerns a charge of perverting the course of justice. Tough times ahead.

Despite endless protests from News International denying knowledge of widespread phone hacking and corruption of public officials, the arrests proceed and the parliamentary inquiry deepens. Public rage continues unabated.

In terms of crisis management, the hacking scandal was always a PR issue first and foremost.  Prioritising legal concerns over PR has been the major blunder.  As it happens things are looking bad on the legal front anyway.

The PR Verdict: “F” for a crisis management strategy that is failing.   Is it possible that News International’s ordeal might have been shorter-lived if PR concerns had driven and shaped the crisis strategy, with legal concerns in second place?

Pubic and political pressures have a nasty habit of taking a crisis in surprising directions.  What might have happened if News International had conceded wrongdoing and made amends at the outset?  The closing of News of the World, millions paid out in damages, the BSKYB acquisition blocked and multiple staff arrests could hardly be described as a strategic success.  It might have been wiser to take an earlier hit with a PR strategy that paid less attention to legal risk and prioritised reforming the company and closing the issue. No doubt Rebekah can tell us more in court.

To read about the latest arrests click here. To read more background about the phone hacking scandal click here.

Is there a news item that you think needs a grade? Send us your suggestion for the next PR Verdict: info@prverdict.com