Since the beginning of the year three significant public relations crisis occured that offer contrasting views on how best to respond when mistakes occur and a decision you thought was the best turns disastrous. Two events received national attention and the third more local and each one was handled differently – some with more success than the others. The three events can best be described as the Good, the Bad, and the Meh.

The Good

You might recall the Southwest Airlines flight that landed at the wrong airport. Southwest took immediate action to acknowledge the error, cooperate with investigating authorities and more importantly, reunite the passengers with their luggage, refund them the cost of their ticket and give them vouchers good for future flights.

Southwest did everything right. They didn’t hide from the mistake and took immediate action to assist the authorities, and responded to the passengers needs engendering goodwill and strengthing brand loyalty. Whether Southwest Airlines was prepared for such a situtation or not, their response is an example how to handle a crisis.

The Bad

Southwest’s response stands in stark contrast to the response from Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia, which prevented many people from drinking the water for nearly a week.

Company executives played down the dangers of the spill from the beginning and when the company did hold a press conference, Freedom Industries’ president Gary Southern took a only few questions because, as he admitted, he was tired.

This is similar to the response given by BP’s then-CEO, Tony Hayward when he said he just wanted his life back during the Gulf Oil Spill. Embattled CEOs cannot afford to be cavalier and dismissive toward the media.

The media is their friend and should be used to communicate completely and openly with the public.  Until Freedom Industries becomes more forthcoming with information and appears to be cooperating rather than hiding, they can expect increased scrutiny and mistrust.

The Meh

Locally, the Anne Arundel County Public Schools took a lot of heat from parents recently for not closing or delaying the start of school due to icy road conditions that developed in the early morning hours. Most other surrounding counties either canceled or delayed school openings in response to the weather and the dangerous travel conditions.

Parents took to social media to admonish the school system and the media used Facebook and Twitter to solicit sources for stories.

Later in the day, AACPS officials released a statement explaining that they made the best decision they could with the information they had at the time and students would not be penalized if parents kept them home or brought them to school late.

Parents and others were not satisfied by this decision and only later did the AACPS publish a lengthy apology explaining that it was wrong not to cancel or delay the start of school considering the changing weather conditions and they will do better next time.

Decisions like these won’t please everyone. There’s always a group that thinks you should open schools on time despite the weather and vice versa. I applaud the school system for acknowledging its mistake and reviewing it’s policies and procedures to prevent a similar error in the future. This would have been a case study in what to do right if AACPS had owned up to its mistake earlier rather take the middle-of-the-road approach with the first letter.

One of the most important responsibilities the school system has is to keep children safe. If they put kids first, it’s hard to blame for the decisions they make.

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