Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Snow, It's A Slippery Slope...


     Happy New Year everyone.  I missed the mother-of-all snow storms during the holidays.  But the PR fallout is still falling!  The airlines took another hit by not reacting quickly enough- and by not doing enough to help stranded travelers.  Night after night we saw TV news reports showing people sleeping on the floors at crowded terminals.  I think the airlines have downsized to the point where good PR is considered a pretty low priority.  Not surprisingly, I see that AAA predicted 92 million people would be traveling over the holidays- 93% of them by car.


    But the airlines have nothing on New York City.  Riders were trapped on stalled trains.  Cars, buses and snowplows were stuck on city streets.  At the height of the storm, hundreds of 911 calls were backlogged.  Heart attack victims reportedly waiting hours to get help.  At least one newborn died- ambulance crews couldn't get there in time.   And days after the massive snowfall- many streets were still unplowed.  NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's initial response: “The world has not come to an end. On balance, I think you’ll find we kept the city safe and we’re cleaning it up.”  He also suggested that residents go shopping or take in a Broadway show. The Mayor told reporters, "There’s no reason... to panic.”  That was news to many residents.  Streets in Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island were buried under an avalanche of snow.  Critics started calling it the 'Bloomberg Blizzard'.  One city councilman tweeted, "The mayor has to stop acting like 'Baghdad Bob' saying the streets are fine. No they aren't. Where the hell are the plows?"  Suddenly, Bloomberg was fighting to save his reputation. 


   The late Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill, famously said, "all politics is local".  That simply means you have to take care of your constituents.  The people who depend on you expect you to look after them- whether you're the mayor, a car maker, a doctor, lawyer, whatever.  When you appear disconnected from reality this snow snafu is the sort of stuff that happens.  After Katrina, President G.W. Bush sent help- Navy ships from Norfolk that were scheduled to arrive 6 days after the hurricane hit.  The President obviously hadn't seen the TV video- showing desperate people with no food and water.  Mayor Bloomberg apparently didn't notice that city streets were not getting cleared.


    Mayor Bloomberg mushed his way over to Brooklyn and listened to the anger of residents whose streets hadn't been plowed. He told everyone, "I'm angry, too."  And he promised to have every street plowed by Thursday- five days after the storm first hit.  Is it enough?  Hard to say... To be fair, the storm was much worse than was predicted.  In fact, it was a terrible blizzard.  The Mayor couldn't control that.  But he can control what happens afterwards.


     Pay attention.  Be proactive.   Be sympathetic.  Get the job done.  As I've said many times, often, the best crisis management doesn't come from a slick ad campaign.  It comes from:
1) A willingness to admit you were wrong.
2) Your promise to make things right.
As it stands right now, it's looking like a long winter in New York.  It'll be interesting to see if the mayor can thaw out his reputation.  What about your clients?  What will you do when the snow hits the fan?

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