Friday, February 12, 2010

ERM-BC-COOP: How critical IS "PR"

I just read an article in the online version of Communicate, a UK publication. The article, titled "Eurostar - a blizzard of criticism" discusses the PR blunders of Eurostar trains "trapped in the Chunnel" incident in December, 2009.

The article is online at

As I read the blurb I was reminded of the image hit British Airways (BA) sustained when it's sole caterer's employees walked out in August 2005 and who were later joined by airport baggage handlers, effectively grounding BA flights. The ripple effect was that kiosks at the airport quickly ran out of food and passengers were more than "somewhat" upset. (See and

Both the Eurostar and BA stories made headlines around the world, but I don't recall seeing any follow-up articles showing the immediate and, more importantly long-term impact on either business.

As an enterprise risk management (a/k/a business continuity) practitioner and former print journalist, I have to wonder: Do PR gaffes have the lingering impact we tell our clients?

In other words, once the initial anger passes and the finger pointing ceases, do customers come back? Do clients simply "forgive and forget?"

Certainly both BA and Eurostar offered post-event perks to get customers to return. Were they sufficient?

How much did these post-event perks cost and could the cost have been reduced had the companies better handled the PR - image protection - process at the time of the incident? Would maintaining image provide a better ROI than the post-image perks?

Everyone should know how Johnson & Johnson handled the tampered Tylenol incident. It is in every PR textbook. Today, in the US and elsewhere, Toyota is being held up as "How Not to Manage an Image."; where J&J did everything right,, Toyota is following in the BA/Eurostar path of "too little, too late."

I would like to see the financial bottom line for BA a year after the caterer fiasco, and the Eurostar financial report a year or so after the December Trouble in the Tunnel.

Granted, BA, Eurostar, Toyota, and J&J are hardly Mom-n-Pop operations. The British government is highly involved in British Airways and Eurostar and Toyota has an equal involvement with the Japanese government - that's how things work in most places outside North America; perhaps outside the USA. Neither the British nor the Japanese governments will permit a national name to fail.

It also would be interesting to see how different people react(ed) to the incidents.

I recently flew on British Midland Airlines (since, I'm told, acquired by another company). Due to cavalier treatment, I "swore off" future flights with British Midland. I avoid CDG airport because of staff attitude. (On the other hand, I love AMS and KLM, the airline that calls AMS home.) For the most part, when I have a choice, I exercise it, even if it costs me a bit more. But, I was born and raised in the US and that certainly colors my attitude and personality.

But I am left with the question: is there a worthwhile ROI to prevent bad PR, a hit to the image or is it "cheaper" to take a hit and offer a pittance for pride.

Again, the advice for a Mom-n-Pop organization with a limited survival fund might be very different than for a BIG NAME organization, especially one heavily involved with the government (e.g., BA, Toyota).

But I'd really like to see follow-up stories on the long-term impact of a PR foul-up on some Big Name organizations.

John Glenn, MBCI
Enterprise Risk Management/Business Continuity practitioner
Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale Florida

Available for work in -- or from -- southeast Florida

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