Crisis management is stressful but not usually difficult. When it comes to what not to do in a crisis, the airline industry has recently been a pretty rich source of case studies (read our view on United Airlines recent problems here). Ryanair’s handling of its recent mass plane cancellations provides yet another example of not following crisis management best practice.
If it were any other company, the list of sins could be fatal to its reputation. But Ryanair has never sold itself on customer service (in fact CEO Michael O’Leary has often appeared to enjoy antagonising passengers and his critics) and its management seems to feel that the cheap ticket prices and the destinations it flies to means that most customers will just hold their noses and keep using it no matter what.
But for companies that are not so lucky – and do fear the old adage that a reputation can take a lifetime to build and five minutes to lose – there are some simple rules of crisis management best practice to follow to avoid turning a drama into a crisis.
Crisis Management: Preparation, preparation, preparation
Ryanair initially blamed the cancellations on punctuality problems, saying less than 2% of their flights would be affected and that they would still hit their target of 90% of planes arriving on time. (Following the rule that it’s a good idea to use facts to put an issue into perspective.) But with that 2% translating into around 400,000 passengers affected, the storm of complaints on social media, TV, radio and in newspapers was entirely predictable. The company then changed their story and admitted the problem was caused by large numbers of their pilots booking holidays at the same time. Whatever the operational reasons, it seems hard to believe that Ryanair’s managers didn’t know the crisis was coming. And it seems equally unlikely that they suddenly woke up one morning and decided the solution was just to cancel around 50 flights a day and simply not fly large number of their passengers anywhere! The impression of mismanagement continued with a public falling out with the company’s pilots.
Crisis management: best practice guidelines
So, a quick reminder of some (but by no means all!) crisis management best practice guidelines:
1. Plan ahead and prepare thoroughly – very few crises cannot be foreseen. The timing may not be known but most major issues can be identified and crisis plans developed to tackle them.
2. Agree procedures and make sure everyone in the company who needs to know them is familiar with them BEFORE a crisis hits.
3. Develop media statements and key messages (templates can be developed in advance that can quickly be modified for each situation) and have trained spokespeople ready to go as soon as possible. This preparation also includes identifying how you will have enough people to ensure websites don’t crash, Live Chat questions are answered and phones are answered. If this doesn’t happen, already stressed and angry customers will only be outraged even more.
4. Position your company as taking action to ‘fix’ the problem and make sure you get the tone right: people are more important than profits. While in certain crisis situation the lawyers won’t let companies actually say the word ‘sorry’, spokespeople can use language like, ‘deeply regret’ and ‘very concerned by’ etc.
5. Don’t view the media as the enemy – they can help you get messages across to all your target audiences!
All common-sense steps you would think but amazing how often companies and organisations don’t follow them.
If you would like to know how we can help to educate your top team on crisis management or prepare them for crisis interviews, just give us a call. All Media Coach courses are bespoke, we will work with you to make everything we teach directly relevant to your business.
Photos used under Wikimedia Creative Commons licence
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