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  • Glenn van Zutphen

A Case Study: What Not to Do at Press Conference

On Monday, two Malaysian's Light Rail Transit (LRT) trains crashed leaving three people in intensive care, the country's first light rail accident. The trains are state-owned public transport firm Prasarana Malaysi.

But it wasn't the crash itself that got the chairman of Prasarana Malysi, Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, into hot water. It's what happened after the crash.

For starters, Mr. Tajuddin didn't visit the crash site until Tuesday, which already had people upset. He then held a press conference after his Tuesday visit and it was the tone of that press conference that sent people into orbit. There was no contrition. He even downplayed his absence at the site on Monday. And he described the crash as two trains "kissing" each other. A petition asking for his resignation quickly gathered 100,000 signatures. The company listened and Mr. Tajuddin was removed from his position.

What's the lesson here?

Image courtesy The Straits Times

Bad things happen and, often times, bad things happen to good companies or good people. What makes the difference between something being bad and something destroying a company or individual is the way you address the incident.

At VanMedia Group, we teach our clients to address bad things head on. Pretending they didn't happen or downplaying the bad news only makes things worse. Rather, a company spokesperson needs to acknowledge the incident, accepting responsibility for what happened, and then bridge to some positive news that the company wants to share.

Imagine if Mr. Tajuddin had said something like this instead:

"Two trains did have a minor collision on Monday leaving three people in critical care in the hospital. Our best wishes are with those injured as we pray for their continued recovery. I apologize that I was unable to be at the site on Monday. Rather, I was in my office, busy gathering information from various departments as we seek to understand what happened. We are making every effort to make sure this sort of accident doesn't happen again. We have mobilized teams to check every inch of rail along our routes to ensure our riders are safe. I'd like to stress that this is the first such accident Prasarana Malaysi has ever had and we are making every effort to make certain this doesn't happen again. We have the best-trained employees in Malaysia and are certain we can get to the bottom of what happened."

A statement like this would have gone a whole lot better for Mr. Tajuddin and for the company. He'd likely still have his job, the company's reputation would more quickly recover and the public would be reassured that it's safe to ride the trains.

This is why media and crisis training is so important. No company wants something bad to happen, but each person who deals with the media or public needs to know how to react if it does. A few hours working with a coach could have saved Mr. Tajuddin's career.

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