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Public Relations

Gathering the facts informs your crisis response

Avoid incorrect statements

The unthinkable has happened. A terrible situation has occurred at your business. Whether it’s a criminal incident, customer service nightmare that has gone wild on social media or a financial scandal, you are now in the crisis cross hairs. How you respond now, will set the tone and the public’s comprehension of the situation (and ultimately your brand) from this point forward.

How can you gather the facts when everyone is repeating erroneous information?

It is critical that you get all of the facts in the middle of a crisis situation. Without clarity you may respond in a way that adds fuel to the metaphorical fire. Two examples come to mind from recent days.

Understand the cause of your problems, don’t obfuscate

Delta Airlines suffered an equipment failure in their headquarters in Atlanta. The result was check-in kiosks went down, leading to long lines, cancelled flights, delays and fuming. Initially the word was that an electrical outage caused an equipment failure. As the story developed more facts were shared and it appeared that a critical piece of switching equipment failed. This equipment failure resulted in the backup system not coming online.

As noted on by Chris Matyszczyk

“When Delta’s computers went down, it blamed a “power outage.” This seemed odd. Why would a power outage in Atlanta cause mayhem across the globe? Those Georgians must have quite some power. This forced Georgia Power to slide onto Twitter and offer a delicate elucidation: “#Delta experienced an equipment failure overnight causing their outage. We are working closely w/ Delta as they make repairs.” Ergo, the supposed power outage was actually a failure of Delta’s computer systems. Obfuscation via your PR department isn’t a good look.”

While CEO Ed Bastian apologized to passengers via video, he blamed a power outage for the problem.

With complicated systems it may be difficult to diagnose the source of the problem quickly. Do not rush to say you know what happened, until you really know what happened. Avoid issuing a statement that later proves to be incorrect. While it is true that when you’re a global business, consumers expect your company to know what went wrong immediately, you must resist mis-statements.


Stating things with clarity, e.g. “Here’s what we know now,” and “We’re getting more data from our engineers and will share that with you as soon as possible,” is sometimes the best response. Then of course, you better get that information clear and share it ASAP.

“But Monday’s outage threatens to wipe away all that trust that Delta has worked to build. It took Delta more than 24 hours to explain what happened: a power control malfunction that led to a power surge and loss of electricity. When the power came back some systems switched to backups, others didn’t and that, Delta said, caused “instability in these systems.”

24 hours after the failure, Delta had their Chief Operations Officer make a statement about what happened. Perhaps it might have been better if he appeared on day one of the situation and been explicit about the facts as they knew them. Subject matter experts can make a difference through inferred credibility in their area of expertise.

Local business accuses woman of being a shoplifter, and racially profiles her

Locally, a Charleston based retailer of women’s accessories accused a young woman of being a shoplifter. The mom, Rene Syler a nationally recognized blogger, news anchor and mother reported wrote:

For those of you who have been following this story, you know Casey and I and a couple of friends are just back from Kiawah Island, South Carolina where we own a home.

During our time there, we had an unfortunate incident with Casey being racially profiled at a shop called Carolina Girls.

The situation led to a viral debacle for the retailer who took down their Facebook page, and who claims to have fully investigated the incident and reached out to Ms. Syler and her daughter. The full investigation does not seem to have included Ms. Syler’s daughter, Casey, and failed to take into account the travel schedule of Ms. Syler’s family, who departed Charleston, before being asked to meet face to face with the retailer.

The flaws in this crisis response seem to have been a lack of inclusion of the injured party in the investigation, their apology/not apology for the incident and the shop’s running away from social media. Complicating the situation, there is a local news station which broadcast an interview with the shop owner without inclusion of a statement from Casey or Ms. Syler. And further compounding perceptions of inaccuracies is the media outlet’s appearance of a conflict of interest due to a friendship between the retailer and the stations lead news anchor.

If your business encounters a situation how can you respond?

  1. Express concern, sympathy for those affected
  2. Get the facts.
  3. Consult experts
  4. Communicate the facts as you know them in regular updates to consumers, affected individuals
  5. Involve all parties in the investigation of what happened, when it happened and why/how it happened
  6. Share the facts
  7. Be present and accessible on social media
  8. Avoid spin
  9. Correct the problem
  10. Tell the public about the remedy

If your firm experiences a crisis, and you need assistance and support responding to and managing it, call us immediately. 843.608.9662.

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