New Yorkers woke up Saturday morning to the news that a horrific bus accident
in the Bronx claimed the lives of 14 people overnight.
Within hours, the media were speculating about the cause of the accident, citing everything from a sleepy driver to a collision with a truck. Journalists also quickly seized on the tour company, World Wide Travel, digging up reports of previous safety violations.
So far, the official cause of the accident has not been determined.
In a recent article, I listed “Seven Rules to Remember When a Crisis Strikes
.” Despite being under tremendous pressure, World Wide Travel quickly released a statement that achieved at least four of those seven rules. It reads, in full:
“At approximately 5:30 this morning a World Wide Travel bus carrying passengers between Mohegan Sun and New York City was involved in an accident, turned on its side, and struck a sign post. We are heartbroken to report that several of our passengers lost their lives or were injured. We are cooperating fully with investigators in trying to determine the exact sequence of events.
“We are a family-owned company and realize words cannot begin to express our sorrow to the families of those who lost their lives or were injured in this tragic accident. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. We will continue to use every resource at our disposal to assist and work with investigators to determine what happened.”
Here are four of the seven rules of crisis communication the statement achieved:
1. Your response needs to be about the victims.
World Wide’s statement made clear that its first priority is the people immediately affected by the tragedy. That may sound like an obvious point, but too many companies in crisis adopt a defensive stance, explaining that “accidents happen” and “it may not be our fault.” One need only look at mining executive Robert Murray’s disaster press conference
to see how not to communicate in a crisis.
2. You need to communicate immediately.
The statement was released within hours, and was subsequently included in virtually every media story about the incident.
3. If you don’t talk, others will.
Although other people were quoted—including law enforcement, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials, and victims—World Wide Travel indicated its commitment to communicating early on, helping to establish the company as a primary source for information.
4. Saying “no comment” is the same as saying, “We’re guilty.”
Not only did World Wide release a statement, but it also reminded readers that it was a “family-owned company,” helping to humanize it. A secondary audience for the company is current and potential future customers, and its statement makes it appear the company cares about its customers.
To be sure, World Wide Travel still has some major communications challenges ahead. But even if they handle those poorly, they at least deserve credit for beginning their crisis communications efforts perfectly.
Although that may seem insignificant in the midst of such a tragedy, I’d argue it’s quite important. At least the surviving family members didn’t have to suffer the added indignity of an insensitive, self-interested, or poorly worded statement.
Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog, where a version of this story first appeared. His firm, Phillips Media Relations, specializes in media and presentation training.