A customer gets sick or injured using your product or service. A company official makes an embarrassing public remark. Incidents such as these can cast an entire organization in a negative light. In these cases, it’s important that an organization respond quickly and correctly, as failing to do so can lead to lasting financial and legal problems.
Response is where crisis communication comes in. In short, this means getting your side of the story out to the public, acknowledging mistakes were made, and providing specifics about what you’re going to do to correct them and prevent future occurrences. You can learn how to respond to a variety of crises in The University of Texas Permian Basin’s online Bachelor of Arts in Communication program, which offers a dedicated crisis communication course. With the knowledge you’ll gain, you can help any organization avoid PR nightmares like those below.
A 24-hour news cycle and social media have made the dissemination of videos, pictures, and stories fast and unforgiving. Bad news generally gathers the most attention and spreads quickly. Below are some examples of high-profile crises and how the parties involved handled them.
737 Max Planes Crash
Aircraft manufacturer Boeing experienced a crisis when two of its 737 Max planes crashed under similar circumstances, killing hundreds of people. In both cases, the planes automatically went into nosedives, and the pilots were unable to retake control. In response, Boeing’s CEO at the time, Dennis Muilenburg, stated that such problems could be avoided in the future through pilot training, seemingly implying that the pilots were at fault for the accidents.
The true culprit turned out to be a faulty sensor, a problem which had already been reported to the FAA hundreds of times but went unaddressed. All 737 Max planes were grounded and given technical upgrades. Boeing also renamed the aircraft the 737-8, since the public had come to associate the 737 Max with deadly accidents. Still, many airlines cancelled their orders with Boeing for the model. The company’s stock took a major hit as well, and CEO Muilenburg was ultimately fired.
United Express “Involuntarily Deboards” Passenger
In 2017, a passenger on a sold out United Express flight out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport was asked to deboard to accommodate airline employees who needed to reach Louisville—the flight’s destination—to work on another flight. The passenger refused to give up his seat and was eventually dragged off the plane by law enforcement. He soon managed to reboard the plane, blood streaming down his face, before collapsing and being taken off on a stretcher. Many passengers filmed the incident on their cell phones.
United Airlines’ now-former CEO Oscar Munoz initially made light of the incident, stating that the airline had had to “re-accommodate” some passengers. That response angered the public, but Munoz insisted employees had acted appropriately and that the passenger had been “disruptive.” Two days later, Munoz called the incident “horrific” and took responsibility for it. PR specialists at the time said he should’ve immediately issued an unconditional apology. Ironically, Munoz had been named U.S. Communicator of the Year by PRWeek just one month prior.
Crock-Pot Takes Heat for Fictional Death
Not all public relations nightmares involve harm to actual people, fortunately. One prominent example involved the death of a beloved fictional character. In 2018, Jack Pearson, a character on the popular TV program This Is Us, died in a fire as the result of a malfunctioning Crock-Pot. Fans of the show were incensed and took to social media to announce they were going to throw out their Crock-Pots for their own safety.
To its credit, Rival, the manufacturer of Crock-Pots, also took to social media to state that they loved Jack and asked that the public not add to their “heartbreak” by no longer using the product, which had been tested for generations. Rival also reassured the public that such an incident had never occurred with their product and that its design made an occurrence “nearly impossible.” The company was widely praised for its response.
What You’ll Learn in a Crisis Communication Course
If you’re part of a communications team for a large organization, particularly a corporate entity, or you represent one as part of a PR firm, it’s important to be able to manage crises, especially when so much is at stake—the company’s reputation, financial standing, and long-term viability.
A crisis communication plan can help you prepare to handle any number of public challenges. Drafting a plan involves drawing up a comprehensive set of potential crises and determining how your organization will respond to them. You must be able to react quickly and appropriately in such circumstances. Often, as we saw in the United Airlines example, an organization’s initial reaction to a crisis can actually deepen its woes.
Crisis communication requires an organization to be able to answer many questions, all of which may be explored in a crisis communication course:
- How do you communicate in a crisis?
- What are the known risks?
- What other potential risks are there?
- How will your organization respond?
- How will your organization not respond?
- Who will make up the crisis management team?
- Who will lead the crisis management team?
- How will you avoid similar occurrences in the future?
- What steps will you take to repair your reputation?
Crisis Communication and Our Online Bachelor of Arts in Communication Program
UT Permian Basin offers a 3-credit crisis communication course as an elective within our online Bachelor of Arts in Communication program. As our catalog indicates, COMM 3342 Crisis Communication “provides study and practice of communication strategies involved in preparing for and responding to crises. While a wide range of crises are considered, the course pays particular attention to corporate crises.”
We consider Crisis Communication to be an integral part of our online BA in communication program, which delves into a varied array of critical types of communication, helping you develop in-demand skills that are useful in many fields.
Today’s employers consistently name communication as one of the primary skills they seek in new hires. Our BA in communication program places an emphasis on written and spoken communication and provides a comprehensive foundation in this multifaceted field, from its ancient origins to present-day communication media.
Our program is 100% online with asynchronous class sessions, enabling you to complete your coursework anywhere on your own schedule. Courses are eight weeks long, and you can begin the program at any of six start dates per year.