Charles Ryan Associates dropped Freedom Industries as a client last weekend after what looks to be the start of one of the largest Public Relations disasters of the year. It will likely never be known what Charles Ryan Associates attempted to do for Freedom Industries. What is certain is that the company could have handled this event better, and it’s a bit confusing why they didn’t do things that most people would view to be intuitive. Ken Carper, an attorney and president of the Kanawha County Commission, says Freedom's handling of the leak and its lack of follow up since Friday is ‘bizarre’ (Strauss).”
There were two main issues with Freedom Industries response. First, they didn’t execute the few press releases they did have. Second and perhaps more importantly, Freedom Industries didn’t seem to care about the mistake they made.Gary Southern, CEO of Freedom Industries gave a short press release on Friday that was at best unprepared. The Southern failed to apologize properly or even seem to acknowledge that this was a major event effecting thousands of Virginians. Worse, there was no mention of an investigation of how the event happened, how future events will be prevented and how they planned to amend for the mistake (Botelho). But the worst part is that the information that Southern gave about internal awareness of the spill was false. Southern claimed that the spill was noticed internally at 10:30 am and which point staff began to fix the leak. However, the Environmental Protection Department reached the spill at 11:10 am and saw no evidence of a cleanup (Trip).
So how could they have greatly improved their public image?
They should have acknowledged the mistake truthfully and provide details of the 3 steps below being worked on internally
1. Investigate how the spill happened and how they can use that information to prevent future spills
2. Demonstrate commitment to cleaning the water
3. Demonstrate commitment to pay medical bills of people affected, and distribute clean water to as many people as possible
If necessary a third party public speaker could have been hired for the press conference. If pressed on why the CEOs were not making statements it could have been completely acceptable to say that they were busy working to rectify the mistake. Also it would have been nice to see some indication of the spill on their website, even just a short blurb about their internal process for rectifying the problem (assuming they are attempting to do so).
Even at this late stage the CEOs could still salvage their image if they could focus on distributing clean water and demonstrating a commitment to pay hospital bills of those effected. One can only why any human being wouldn’t do everything humanly possible to make up for a mistake that poised the water supply of hundreds of thousands of Virginians.
Strauss, Gary, Marisol Bello, and Wendy Koch. "W.Va. Company under Scrutiny for Chemical Spill." USA Today. Gannett, 13 Jan. 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2014.
Botelho, Greg, AnneClaire Stapleton, Mike Ahlers, Paul Caron, Ashley Fantz, Ed Payne, Marlena Baldacci, Kevin Conlon, Susan Candiotti, and Dave Alsup. "Chemical Levels in West Virginia Water Drop, but Still No End in Sight to Ban." CNN. Cable News Network, 11 Jan. 2014. Web. 13 Jan. 2014.
Trip, Gabriel. "Thousands Without Water After Spill in West Virginia."Thenewyorktimes.com. The New York Times, 10 Jan. 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2014