As expected, the first 72 hours following the Tunisia attack saw TV networks and newspapers flooded with accounts from holidaymakers affected by the devastation.
As a PR bod, what strikes me in the aftermath of these incidents is how often we hear more speedily from the:
- Travel Experts
- On the Ground First Person Witnesses
- Previous Terrorism Victims / Witnesses
And yet, we’re often left waiting for the first time the corporate brand involved puts themselves in front of the camera to express their position.
I’m not saying they should be live on screen within an hour of a disaster such as this – when Lord knows there’s plenty going on behind the scene – but there is an expectation about the need for a ‘face’ to come forward on behalf of the brand.
It’s critical at this time in an unfolding incident that we can see a corporate step up to the plate and express:
- Commitment (to repatriations and ongoing safety)
- Communication pathways (for ongoing dialogue with those affected)
To their credit, Thomson Airways did post a statement online in collaboration with First Choice, addressing what steps they were taking.
It did exactly the right thing in terms of crisis comms statement content, including
- Expressing sympathy
- Showing what they were doing
- Issuing a contact
- Emphasising the delivery of their internal workforce.
That said, even this statement can’t counteract the poor communication which has allegedly been taking place on the ground at the scene of the tragedy itself.
When eye-witnesses are only too happy to appear on international news broadcasts detailing their experience, it seems hugely neglectful that a corporate the size of these travel operations would leave anything to chance in terms of how they communicate directly to their customers at the scene.
In a real ‘OUCH’ PR moment for the company, one witness and travel customer said on the BBC this morning that it had been left to a 20-something rep to convey the latest to holidaymakers – and that she had such little experience and knowledge that their only hope was to digest updates through social media and TV news.
Never should a brand leave their customers / clients / stakeholders having to dig their own way around news broadcasts and social media to find the latest on an incident directly involving them.
At the very least, had I been involved in the PR of the company, I’d be wanting to fly out the most senior comms-prepared spokesperson and have them willing and able to communicate not only to the news channels back home, but – imperatively – to my customers on the ground!
A brand is not always judged by what HAPPENS to it, as much as how it RESPONDS to what happens.
This, now, is the ultimate test for the tour operators.
They must do whatever they can to act quickly and appropriately to communicate with all stakeholders in whatever form it takes.
It is their duty to inform and to understand, in the spirit not only of preserving their brand reputation, but to reiterate the issues of corporate social responsibility and to act as a respectable and responsible business which we will all want to continue to trust and invest in.
For more PR thoughts or advice, email me firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07974 359001