After almost a week of shut-down, Alton Towers has re-opened its doors today.
While the investigation into what happened with its Smiler ride continues, it has, at the very least, been able to start welcoming customers and judge for itself whether consumer confidence has been impacted.
By all accounts, it would seem that Merlin Entertainments (the company which owns Alton Towers and other similar parks) has, in the main, handled itself really quite well in respect of its crisis communications.
Initially, there were those of us in the PR world wondering whether the company might be about to give itself a ‘PR fail’ badge the size of Thomas Cook’s, after its divisional director was quoted as saying he hadn’t been alerted to a problem and implying that the rollercoaster issues were really quite normal (thus seeming to play down the alarm around safety).
Since that point, however, the business has followed very much a textbook approach to its handling of the incident – and particularly with reference to brand protection and PR activity.
That’s not to say that its share price hasn’t fallen significantly following the incident (analysts suggest it fell 3.5% the day after the drama unfolded), but history tends to suggest that those brands who handle their crisis comms fairly and appropriately will regain consumer confidence more quickly than if there was a mishandling of matters.
Here’s what the company has done well since last Tuesday’s incident, and what to remember for your own approach to crisis comms:
Gather the facts and identify the appropriately briefed person to go public:
If anything, this was the area Merlin initially stumbled over (as mentioned above), but, soon enough, Chief Executive Nick Varney was in front of the press and telling the media in brief but accurate detail what he knew and what would be happening.
In a crisis, find your human side and don’t shy from an apology if its clearly due:
This is where Merlin were so much better than Thomas Cook. They knew very quickly that lives were impacted to some extent, and that emotions would be running high. Nick’s statement expressed empathy and apology – at the same time as being business-like.
Remember who your audience is and what your brand stands for:
Again, with Thomas Cook the criticism was that the company had forgotten it was a brand synonymous with happy family times and that it was even more critical its media response held those people at the front of mind.
Merlin recognised how imperative it was that it reflected its family focus and that its response appealed to that audience.
Show action and intention:
Merlin quickly referenced that it would be working with the appropriate authorities to find a cause and solution to the incident. It didn’t look to pass blame or bow out. It merely stated facts and showed itself to be compliant and swift in response.
Keep in contact with the media and your public informed:
Merlin maintained a relationship and commentary through the media in the subsequent days, but also used other available channels. Its website NEWS area was updated with a response and in so doing, it emphasised its willingness to communicate.
Hiding away is never respected by either the media or the public.
Ultimately, the brand has handled itself well to date. Time will tell from today, with the gates back open, whether the public have felt suitably reassured….
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