How not to handle a bus crash crisis

Wed, Mar 02 2016

Just over a week ago a luxury coach operated by Gold Bus Lines of Ballarat crashed into a low bridge, peeling back part of the roof and injuring 11 of the 15 passengers. Amazingly, no-one was seriously hurt and it might have been just another unfortunate accident, until the bus company’s actions turned it into a reputational disaster.

With the crash site swarming with TV cameras and media photographers, and rescue workers still trying to extricate passengers, a man with a roll of grey tape started to cover up the company’s name on the sides of the stricken bus. The hapless individual told reporters: “it’s so people don’t see the name and call the company.” 

Predictably, social media lit up with criticism of the 'cover up', and when the company eventually held a press conference hours later, CEO Matthew Baird said it was usual practice. “That’s standard protocol whenever there is a vehicle involved in an accident. Notwithstanding the severity of the situation we’re out to protect our brand and to make sure that we don’t tarnish our brand with a vehicle that is obviously in quite bad disrepair. It doesn’t mean any disrespect.” Really Mr Baird?

 

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We don’t know what else was said, but the media did not report any mention of sympathy or apology. There was a brief statement but no apology on social media. Immediately after the crash the company Facebook page received a string of critical and sarcastic posts. Typical was: “Gold Bus seem to be more protecting of their name than the welfare of the driver and passengers with their poor attempt to obscure the name and phone number on the bus. Who was the driver? Mr McGoo I think.” Within a few hours the Facebook page shut down but was soon replaced by an unofficial Gold Bus page. As one post on the new page said: "Well done. Removed your Facebook page to avoid scrutiny after taping over your bus logo after the crash. I'd invest in better PR policy rather than duct tape." The official page was restored a week later with some of the critical posts still visible.

The company’s Twitter account was also unhelpful, with promotional messages not updated for more than four months. And the company website remained silent for days until a four paragraph statement finally appeared. It began: “The entire team at Gold Bus Ballarat has been deeply affected by the bus accident that involved one of our buses in South Melbourne on Monday 22 February.  Our immediate priority is the health and well-being of those who suffered injuries as a result of the accident and to ensure all assistance is being provided to them and their families.” No apology, no real expression of sympathy or regret, and it was anonymous.

Every crisis manual says what they should have done – be transparent, be quick, be responsive, apologise, and provide a sympathetic human face. Sadly they seemingly did none of these. In addition, be well prepared for the most obvious potential crises, and what can be a more obvious risk for a bus company than a serious accident? Let’s give the final word to one of the temporarily unavailable Facebook posts: “What sort of training or staff does this company employ when they drive a bus under a bridge that is clearly marked as not high enough, even with flashing lights, then has the nerve to worry about covering their logo rather than the victims. Hang your heads in shame and thank God no one died.”

A Parting Thought

Your brand is a story unfolding across all customer touch points
Jonah Sachs

 

Author:

Tony Jaques PhD

Director, Issue Outcomes P/L