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Crisis Misstep

November 29th, 2007

There’s a good article from today’s BullDog Reporter on the crisis communications response following the 2007 Chicago Marathon. In case you missed it, the Marathon was held during the hottest October on record.  Many people were dehydrated, hospitalized, injured and sadly, one runner died (though it may or may not have been a result of the weather).

Marathon Director Carey Pinkowski was responsible for communications following the race. According to Michael Geczi, Executive Vice President, Corporate Communications, Ashton Partners, who wrote the BullDog article, here are some of Pinkowski’s most egregious quotes following the crisis.

1. “There were adequate fluids at all our locations.”

2. “Our participants were not drinking the water; they were cooling themselves with it. That’s something that, I’ll be honest with you, we didn’t anticipate.”

3. “Is there anything we could have done better? No. We anticipated the weather. I’m very proud of the way things went.”

4. “We are reviewing the details …”

5. (Silence).

Those of you who read our blog regularly know there is a golden rule for crisis communications: Validate concern and show action.

In his first comment, Pinkowski flat out denies the concern that there wasn’t enough water, despite widespread reports from volunteers and runners to the contrary.  In the second comment, he adds insult to injury by accusing the runners of not using the water that was available in the proper fashion.

The third and fourth statements clearly violate the second aspect of the golden rule by not showing action. Admitting you are proud of the disaster says you’re not going to do anything differently. And “reviewing the details” means you’re not interested in finding out what went wrong.

The last part – the silence – goes beyond the golden rule to the heart of crisis communications.  When it comes down to it, all people want to know is: Do you care?  Silence says no.  Silence says you’re just going to hunker down and hope it works itself out of the news cycle.

The Chicago Marathon was tough on a lot of people.  But it didn’t need to be as tough on Pinkowski (or on the city’s 2016 Olympic bid) as it was.  Good communications can go a long way – even further than 26.2 miles.

Posted Under: Crisis Communications, Media & Journalism
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