Recently UK zoo South Lakes Wild Animal Park found itself in the middle of a nightmare when keeper Sarah McClay died after being mauled by a tiger.
Zoo owner David Gill immediately gave a number of press interviews in which he said neither the park nor the the tiger was to blame for Sarah’s death – and was then condemned by the family as causing them hurt by his comments.
So what as a business owner do you do if such a tragedy of negative publicity befalls you?
Certainly it is a situation all businesses should prepare for. Such unexpected and devastating incidents can and do happen all the time – a fire at your place of work, the toddler who slips out unnoticed from the playgroup, a death at a factory …
Discovering it is your business and livelihood at the centre of a terrible tragedy is shocking enough. But the added pressure comes when you are contacted by reporters and broadcasters, all desperate for information and pressing you for a statement. So, what should you do in the immediate aftermath when the worse scenario happens to you? Here we give a quick guide…
* Firstly do not be pressurised into going on live TV or radio or giving off the cuff comments to reporters who call. It is all too easy to say something you might later regret so tell them you will be issuing a statement.
* Equally, do not just say ‘no comment’ as in the worse situation this can look as if you have something to hide.
* Draft your short written statement – which should be one or two paragraphs at most. Acknowledge what has happened and if someone has been injured or even died, then offer your deepest sympathies to their family. In a situation of death it is a good idea to give some information about that person such as they were a valued member of staff and how upset everyone is – but stick to one or two sentences.
* Do not speculate on what may or may not have happened or who may or may not have witnessed the incident. It is very tempting especially if you have nothing to hide and feel sure you had all safety protocols in place to feel compelled to go into details. But it is safer to simply say you are working with the authorities to ascertain the facts. It is a good idea to include one sentence to say the public were never in danger/the fire was under control fast/you are reviewing procedures if this is applicable.
* The statement should be placed on your company website or Facebook page and tweeted if you have a Twitter account. It can just be in the corner of the home page – it doesn’t have to dominate the home page – but should be prominent enough to be easily seen, perhaps with a link to your full statement.
* Ensure all employees know to direct any press to the statement and do not gossip on Facebook, Twitter or other social media about what has happened.
* If a fire has devastated your warehouse and you have customers waiting it is a good idea to add in your statement that you are doing your utmost to fulfil orders. But in the event of a serious injury or death, it is probably best to close for a day – or even to close for half a day. Yes, you might lose revenue but it shows a mark of respect.
* Take heart in the knowledge that news travels extremely fast these days. What is news one day will no longer be in the papers two or three days later. And dealing with the situation in a professional way gives your business the best chance of coming through it unscathed.
For professional advice on dealing with negative publicity, contact us using the form to the right of this page…