Richard Branson is traditionally thought of for his flamboyant marketing stunts for his various businesses. Dressing as a woman, skydiving, sailboarding with a barely dressed woman on his back. None of these are things that would make you think of Richard Branson as too serious of a business man. But clearly, he is a man of great intelligence, ability and, well, personality, or else he wouldn’t have been as successful as he has been in his businesses. With his fun loving spirit, some might have wondered how he would handle the tragic crash of the Virgin Galactic test flight and how he would be able to keep the business on track and moving forward. What has unfolded has been a lesson in how to do crisis communications right.
CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS STEP 1 – TIMELINESS
Almost immediately, Virgin took to the web to talk about the crash. They released statements with known details, they shared concern and compassion for the pilots and their families, they tweeted to provide up to date information. Richard Branson himself went from tweeting Halloween costumes to tweeting very serious posts about the crash and sharing his reaction. He tweeted several times on the day of the crash (and almost exclusively since,) expressing his sympathy, sadness and the gravity of the situation, while still sharing his passion and belief in the value of the private space flight program.
Since the first day, as updates have become available, Virgin Galactic has been swift in sharing them and in providing as much information as possible. By stepping up quickly, Virgin Galactic was able to take immediate control of the communications and be the resource for information for the public and the media. There was no time for the story to go astray and Virgin Galactic cooly, compassionately and professionally managed the situation.
CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS STEP 2 – OWNERSHIP
The first thing that Branson did was that as soon as he heard of the accident, he immediately headed out to the location where it occurred. But not only did he go there, he was in very public communication about his actions, tweeting about what had happened and where he was headed. Branson has publicly acknowledged in the past, and wrote about in his book “The Virgin Way”, that he believes it is the responsibility of the head of a company to set the tone and example for their customers and employees in a time of crisis or tragedy. The tone that Branson has set in this case has been one of action, ownership and continued passion. He has made the situation very human and very emotional.
CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS STEP 3 – CONSISTENCY
One of the reasons why Richard Branson has been so successful is that he understands about brand building and messaging. He understands how crucial it is to be clear and consistent, in all places and at all times. This is more true in the face of a crisis than at any other time for a company. It is easy in times of crisis to stray off message and to start to blow in the wind of public opinion and commentary.
Virgin Galactic clearly follows the path the Branson has laid out for all of his companies. And it is probably the company that has done the most preparation for crisis communications. Along with Virgin Air and Virgin Trains, Virgin Galactic is one of his companies most likely to have a significant crisis – one that can involve the loss of life (there is no greater crisis than this). It is clear that a crisis communications plan had already existed and everyone was very aware of the messaging, tone and steps to be taken. That is how Virgin and Branson were able to respond so quickly and be so solid in their approach.
But beyond the consistency of the messaging with the crisis, the company and its owner were also very consistent in their messaging about the future of the company. In his official statement, Branson said “Space is hard – but worth it. We will persevere and move forward together.” The vision of the company remains true and solid and the word persevere is a crucial one. This crisis will not break them. Their goal is clear and the importance of that goal is well established.
We’d love to hear about your approach to crisis communications. Do you have similar steps in place to Virgin Galactic? Let us know at @KCMPRBUZZ.