Preparing for a safe flight

When Thomas Cook collapsed on 23 September 2019, it was interesting to see just how quickly dedicated website pages were launched and how the team’s social media channels shared notices about the organisation’s demise. 

From a marketing point of view, a situation like this leaves competitors in a difficult position. Should they immediately share posts about holiday deals and try to fill the void, or simply sit back and monitor from the situation. Is it appropriate for competitors to be seen to be benefiting at time like these?

What was obvious that week was the widespread sympathy for the 9,000 Thomas Cook employees which the company had in the UK, particularly as stories were shared about the way they professionally continued to carry out their role, helping holidaymakers to return safely to the UK. 

On the back of this, it was interesting to watch the response from other organisations on their social media channels, who reached out to Thomas Cook staff. Even small companies got involved. For instance, a Café on the south coast offered employees a free breakfast Tuesday 1 October, along with a cocktail at its sister wine bar.

A health club posted on Facebook, offering local Thomas Cook employees two months’ free membership (which included any existing members who had worked for the travel firm). 

“Exercise as well as R&R can help a lot of people at time of financial stress,” said one Facebook post. “If you are affected by redundancy then please talk to a member of the team to discuss circumstances further and to see how we can help.”

Both of these responses – and there are many other examples – no doubt meant well. But, in many ways, they are clever marketing ploys. Not only do people reading the posts think how kind the two businesses have been, but the Thomas Cook employees who took up the offers will no doubt have shared their experience on social media too, as well as possibly extending their membership at the health club and returning for more breakfasts and cocktails in the future.

The collapse of Thomas Cook was also a timely reminder to the marketing and PR teams from other firms to familiarise themselves with their crisis communication plan. If something did happen in the future, would they have a strategy as to how to respond?

Every organisation should have some form of crisis communication plan, not just for a business failure, but to respond to any type of crisis.

The main benefit offered by PR professionals at times of crisis is to safeguard the reputation of an organisation. Contrary to widespread belief, this is seldom about protecting the organisation from the glare of publicity, it is about creating an honest dialogue with the organisation’s various publics. 

Many crisis plans focus on emergency responses to events such as fire, flood and terrorism. The irony here is that these are crises least likely to damage the organisation’s reputation. The situations most likely to damage reputation are those arising from predictable risk issues. It is important that an organisation also considers the crisis implications of issues such as mergers and acquisitions, shareholder action, product or service failure, financial crisis, redundancies and outsourcing. 

Crisis planning is like buying car insurance. You may never need it but you’d be in a tricky situation if you didn’t have it… 

Part of a crisis communication plan will include the processes to be implemented and this might include publishing a holding statement on an organisation’s website – which should be pre-written as much as possible and ready to go at the touch of a button. 

Then it will also be a case of sharing key information and messages on social media. Then monitoring and responding to comments on any channels. 

It would also be useful to have a pre-written press release ready to go. While the types of crisis might vary, there are key quotes and messages which will remain similar – such as ‘customers and team members being our priority at this time’ etc. 

It’s often useful to know who your spokespeople will be and they, ideally, will have already some sort of media training in the past. It’s about being as prepared as possible and also testing the plan every now and again. 

If you want to know more about how Lake Solutions can help your organisation with a crisis plan, give us a call. 

Article Details

Ian Jepp
14 November 2019