Tuesday, January 31, 2006

NC Blast: HQ AWOL, Local Spokesman Gets it Right

An explosion this morning at a North Carolina chemical plant demonstrates the good and bad of how companies should communicate during and after a crisis. On the bad side, AP has been unable to reach anyone at Synthron, Inc.'s parent company for comment, and the company website has not commented on, or otherwise acknowledged, the disaster.

But plant vice president Randy Cox, despite being injured, got it right:
Cox said he had no idea what caused the explosion.
"There will be a thorough investigation by the authorities," he said. "Our top priority is for the workers at the plant and we want to do everything we can for them."

In his comments, Cox didn't venture beyond the facts and into speculation, and he appropriately communicated the company's priorities during the early stages of the crisis.

Well done.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The importance of a speedy response to the media

In today's media environment of 24-hour news cycles and nearly instantaneous transmission of news around the world, a delay of even a few hours can mean the difference between being seen by the public as either evasive or responsive, callous or caring.

A fire early Sunday morning at a suburban Atlanta Holiday Inn killed one person and injured over two dozen more. As was the case with a January 2004 hotel fire in South Carolina that killed six, hotel officials were unresponsive to the media in the hours immediately following the fire. "Phone calls to...Holiday Inn officials were not immediately returned Sunday," said the initial AP report found on Google News. "Holiday Inn officials could not be reached for comment Sunday night," reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

To their credit, the hotel's owners issued a news release later in the day, properly expressing concern for the dead and injured while also addressing the immediate concerns of other evacuated guests; the company also confined its comments to the known facts, without speculation. Intercontinental Hotels Group, Holiday Inn's parent corporation, has issued no statements of any kind to the media.

Unfortunately, the hotel owner's news release came out after the initial AP and AJC reports reached scores of media outlets nationwide, and as of this morning the AJC story update--and a number of AP updates--still do not reflect the previous day's news release: "Holiday Inn officials could not be reached for comment." While it is unknown what channels the company used for distributing the news release other than PR Newswire, it is apparent that company's message did not reach the reporters covering the story.