Crisis Communications – Handling a Sad Day

So it’s been just over a month since the Le Mans 24hr race. I wasn’t there in person but was in a remote part of Scotland for a stag weekend, however I was still covering the race from a web and social media perspective.

As a team we went into the race with high hopes of a win in both the GTE Pro and Am classes with one of the strongest teams we’d ever entered. Tragically the race will not be remembered for Aston Martin’s resilient performance and third-place finish, but the passing of Alan Simonsen following an accident in the early minutes of the race.

I began to think something was wrong when our guys on the ground handling the Aston Martin Racing twitter account didn’t tweet any news on the accident. My fears were confirmed about an hour later when I received confirmation of a imminent press statement and the roll-out of our ‘Crisis Communications’ plan.

Crisis communications is something that many companies plan out and have agreed but obviously very few ever implement. I remember discussing procedures earlier on in the year and we discussed how the death of a racing driver would be one of a few scenarios where the plan would be implemented.

So, once official confirmation had come through that we had moved into a crisis communications situation the agreed plan for www.astonmartin.com was enacted. In essence it relates to what many companies do, replacing the main homepage and content pages with a ‘dark site’ with the removal or any marketing or promotional messages – simply the relevant statement on the incident. This certainly tallies with the proposed ‘dark site’ approach I’d planned during my time at TUI Travel for http://www.thomson.co.uk and http://www.firstchoice.co.uk. Fortunately¬†to manage http://www.astonmartin.com we use an extremely nimble and flexible CMS (www.sitefinity.com) which made things easy and quick – time is of the essence in situations like these. Within around ten minutes both our main homepage and racing homepages had been changed to a black background with the official press statement displayed in white. Both homepages remained like this through Saturday and Sunday, returning to normal service (although with a tribute as lead story) on the Monday.

Clearly I take no pleasure in the circumstances that meant we had to enact this plan, but the reception we received for the simple, quick and respectful approach was pleasing and certainly helped protect us from any criticisms about handling such a tragic event.

I hope I’ll never have to implement a crisis plan at any other point in my career but this is a clear example of how good planning, clear communication channels – despite me being hundreds of miles away in Scotland – and a nimble content management system can help play a visible part in handling any crisis situation.

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More information on the Allan Simonsen Foundation

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