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VOL. 128 | NO. 148 | Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lori Turner

Lori Turner-Wilson

Southwest Shows Right Model for Surviving Crises

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With all the attention paid to big brands making big blunders in the face of crisis, it’s refreshing to celebrate a brand getting it right.

Southwest Airlines deploys a combination of strategies to ensure it not only survives the inevitable PR crisis but emerges as a stronger brand afterward. The airline provides an opportunity for every brand – large or small – to examine its own readiness for a crisis and develop or strengthen its plan accordingly.

Crisis No. 1, Facebook Frenzy: To celebrate the brand’s three-millionth Facebook fan, Southwest offered significant airfare deals exclusively through Facebook. The promotion was much more popular than the brand anticipated, leading to a flooding of the reservation system and a resulting technical glitch which caused customers to be billed multiple times.

Southwest very quickly and publicly owned up to the mistake and explained how they would not only correct it for current customers, but also how they would avoid the same mistake going forward. While some customers were understandably unhappy, many others jumped to the aid of Southwest, due to the brand’s speedy response combined with all the goodwill the brand had built through years by doing right by customers.

Crisis No. 2, Emergency Tweet: Thanks to the instantaneous nature of social media and the availability of in-air Wi-Fi, the world can hear about an in-air emergency before dispatch even has a chance to report it. This was the case when a hole tore open in the body of a Southwest plane flying from Phoenix to Sacramento, Calif. The brand’s social media managers, which monitor the Internet relentlessly, quickly spotted the tweet and posted a rapid response on the brand’s blog.

Crisis No. 3, Nose Gear Failure: More recently, the landing gear under the nose of a Southwest plane landing at LaGuardia collapsed, causing an emergency landing and several injured passengers. Southwest’s rapid response team was online addressing the incident a mere 30 minutes after the flight landed – significantly faster than the industry norm.

Thanks to pre-planning for about any contingency, the Southwest communications team is masterful at getting out in front of a story and controlling its direction through open, honest communication. Comments from Southwest spokesman, Paul Flannigan, indicate the communications team is actually busier when nothing is going on, because they are constantly updating contingency plans and pre-approved statements in preparation for possible crises. Everyone on the Southwest communications team is clear about their role in making rapid response possible. Couple their crisis planning with the year-round good stories about the brand, and you have a solid crisis management formula that’ll allow the brand to survive just about any PR turbulence.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and Founder/CEO of RedRover Sales & Marketing, www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).

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