Executive Summaries » Message-Managing in a Crisis: Lessons from a PR Disaster

Message-Managing in a Crisis: Lessons from a PR Disaster

October 19, 2017

Corporations and other large organizations are smart to establish their own virtual “Situation Room” response teams, who swing into action following an unwelcome event. United Airlines’ crisis response to the spectacle of their bloodied passenger, Dr. David Dao, being dragged off its April 9 Flight, offers the perfect example of why a “Situation Room” approach is necessary. United did a great deal right several days into the crisis, but the first 24 hours of decisions and communication determine how successfully an organization weathers a crisis.

Three days after the incident, United CEO Oscar Munoz went on national television to express “shame” and pledged that the episode will never happen again. United would receive an A plus if this were the message Munoz gave immediately following the event, but it did not emerge until three days later, when marketing and PR teams had not only joined the battle, but were becoming the dominant influence on the CEO’s thinking.

On day one, United’s legal team seems to have gone out of its way to assure that there was no admission of wrongdoing without any understanding of the business risks this approach imposed. The first statement was a “nonpology.” It took the form but lacked the substance of an apology, and compounded United’s problem. Corporate leaders improve their companies’ odds in a crisis by giving PR, lawyers, HR and the business leaders all seats at the table when a crisis occurs.

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