Creating a proactive (not reactive) plan often determines whether a company can survive the negative attention created by an unexpected crisis. But in many cases, proactive plans are generally not implemented because the company’s attitude errs toward, “that will never happen to us.”
But what happens when something extremely unexpected occurs? Could even the best PR plan falter? In the last few weeks an outbreak of bed bugs has been reported in a number of large U.S. cities. A crisis? Not likely. A PR challenge? Most definitely. Blogs and news sites are buzzing with how hotel chains, hospitals, universities and clothing stores are responding to the issue.
In researching their responses, hotels in particular, it was alarming to see the lack of communication. Most of the major hotel chains did not mention the outbreak on their websites. Even if the hotel is free of an infestation problem, it would seem appropriate to reassure customers that management is doing everything in their power to keep the critters away.
There was, however, a steady flow of comments from angry customers and shoppers. The public did not delay in calling out the names of businesses who suffer an infestation of bed bugs. News sites, discussion boards and even a bed bug registry are among the more popular venting sites.
In New York City, where the outbreak was considerably worse, city government stepped in to mend the lines of communication. A central information website was established to educate people about the outbreak, and how to prevent the bud bugs from spreading. At Wake Forest University in North Carolina, the administration was prepared with a solid extermination plan if students reported bed bugs in their dorm rooms. University health officials spread their message through the student newspaper and website.
Although an outbreak of bed bugs was quite unexpected, it appears as though most businesses who were affected did not address the issue in an appropriate fashion. There were no policies in place for dissatisfied customers, or even an forum for them to voice their concerns. Because of this, people went to the Internet to share their feelings, thus spreading the issue further. It took the work of the government and major institutions to send out a comprehensive reaction message.
Were PR professionals successful in exterminating this pesky issue? What could have been done to help the public understand the outbreak?