Six ways to avoid Thomas Cook PR disaster

There are lessons for every company over the way Thomas Cook mishandled the tragic deaths of Bobby and Christi Shepherd, who were poisoned by carbon monoxide fumes from a faulty boiler on holiday in Corfu.

Crisis management - we can break it down to six ways to deal with a tragic incident or crisis professionally, effectively and humanely.

Reputation protection - Thomas Cook’s failure to show care and compassion to the children’s parents Sharon Wood and Neil Shepherd left them with a reputation in tatters and spiralling share prices.

Apology – well that didn’t happen for nine years until the travel company’s CEO Peter Frankhauser finally gave a frank BBC interview admitting Thomas Cook had treated the families without compassion and pledging future support.

  • Communication – the fundamental basis of PR and crisis management and far from the “wall of silence” the children’s father Neil got from the travel company. Communicate on every level and inter-departmental. One of the fundamental flaws in this case was the legal team working against PR instead of together. Strike a healthy balance between humanity and legal protection.
  • Support victims and loved ones – assess what can be done immediately to help victims and relatives and long-term support over days, weeks or years.
  • Media maze – guide victims and elected company spokespeople through the media maze. Coach them in what to expect and how to deal with journalists.
  • Fact-finding and filling the gaps – get a vivid picture of what happened, the weaknesses and strengths, the pitfalls of where the organisation and/or procedures fell down.
  • Impact assessment – what’s the initial reaction and onslaught of media attention? Action damage-limitation and assess how media attention could escalate.
  • Turn negative into positive – be pro-active. Good can come out of this. Find solutions and instigate new processes to prevent repetition and improve working practices for staff across the spectrum.

Thomas Cook has vowed that its conduct will change. Perhaps it will but the change of heart has come nine years too late. Check your crisis management machine is well-oiled now and ready to swing smoothly into action.