2 Crises, 2 Responses, But Only One’s Effective

Oops, wrong airport.

Two separate crises, two separate responses. There are some stark lessons that go to the heart of brand reputation stemming from how Southwest Airlines and Freedom Industries  reacted to recent events.

In the case of Southwest Airlines, a flight from Chicago’s Midway International Airport was scheduled to land Sunday night at Branson Airport in Southwest Missouri, but, instead, landed at Taney County’s M. Graham Clark downtown Airport, which is about seven miles away and has a significantly shorter runway.

According to CNN, the jet stopped about 500 feet away from the end of the runway. Because of the short runway, the pilot had to do some heavy breaking as soon as plane touched down. No one was injured.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Safety Board have launched an investigation into what happened.

Southwest Airlines was quick to communicate what happened. It initially posted a statement on its website last night, saying, “Our ground crew from the Branson airport has arrived at the airport to take care of our Customers and their baggage.”

The statement was updated Monday morning.

It read: “We are cooperating with authorities in this investigation. We want to thank first responders and Branson Airport Administrators for joining in the work with our ground operations staff to immediately take care of our Customers and their baggage last night. We have since reached out to each Customer directly to apologize, refund their tickets, and provide future travel credit as a gesture of goodwill for the inconvenience.”

Southwest’s response is in stark contrast to the crisis now engulfing Freedom Industries. The company is allegedly responsible for contaminating the water supply of some 300,000 residents of Charleston, W. Va., following a chemical spill last week.

Since the accident, Freedom Industries executives have entirely avoided media inquiries, except for a brief news conference Friday night. That’s according to The Charleston Gazette.  

“We are very, very sorry for disruption of everyone’s daily life,” said Freedom Industries President Gary Southern, during the news conference, according to reports.

A visit to the company’s website shows no mention of the spill or what the company is doing in response the damage.

Although the story is still developing, Freedom has betrayed a dim view of the importance of public relations.

Indeed, on Sunday Charles Ryan Associates, a local PR agency hired by Freedom, abruptly dropped the chemical company as a client.

In light of the twin crises here are some tactics on how to respond to a crisis head-on, compliments of Jennifer Byrd, national public relations director of The Salvation Army.

> Keep your stakeholders in the impacted region informed.

> Have spokespeople strategically situated and the media briefed. This is to engage directly with the media and help tell the story through social media.

> Send a fact sheet and/or press release daily.

> Stock up your website with information.

> Keep a two-way connection. Have constant communications between people at the company’s headquarters with people on the ground.

What would you add to the list?

Learn more about crisis communications from PR News Crisis Management Guidebook, Volume 6.  

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1