crisis pr lessons

Cathay Pacific, a Hong Kong-based airline, ended up in a big PR crisis recently because two employees of the airline allegedly broke their home isolation Covid rules.

After a series of heated statements from both external parties and company officials, the entire situation culminated in criticism from the Hong-Kong government.

Company Response

Cathay Pacific’s chairman, Patrick Healy, released a video with a measured and graceful response to comments and criticisms that the company was receiving from the public.

The way that Healy handled the situation was notable, especially considering that it was happening during a time when everyone’s attention was on the company and what would happen next.

He accepted responsibility for the mistakes that the employees made, and apologized for any disruption that those employees may have caused; disruptions potentially including a new Covid-19 outbreak.

Healy also noted that the company was taking responsibility for the entire crew of the plane, stating that they would all be returning to Hong Kong on cargo-only flights, and clarified that such a flight didn’t go against government pandemic regulations.

Taking Charge

The company’s chairman made it clear that he and the company would accept responsibility and delivered the statement with elegance. The statement also separated the company from the behavior of the two employees.

While the employees were in the wrong to avoid home isolation after testing positive for the virus, the admission of guilt wasn’t connected to the airline itself being in the wrong too.

Healy also made it clear that the company would continue following all of the public health guidelines and regulations without compromising any of the responsibilities it has to employees and consumers.

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Understanding situations such as this one requires having a lot of empathy toward the public, as well as an acknowledgment of the mistakes that employees might have made which put others at risk.

That’s precisely why it’s effective to single out the minority of people who broke the rules, and clearly state that any further rule-breaking wouldn’t be allowed, never has been, and that all the other employees have successfully followed the rules.

This type of statement tells the public that the company’s leadership doesn’t tolerate any sort of damage to its reputation from a small number of people.

The airline also tactfully didn’t make any sort of political comments about the ongoing pandemic and global crisis, avoiding turning the response into a political or social statement.

Instead of delving into the tricky politics that have surrounded the pandemic, with the statement, Healy managed to depoliticize the situation and said that the airline would be respecting any rules and regulations from the government.

This was also partially an expected statement because there is an anticipated investigation into the airline’s quarantine regulations, as well as into other employee conduct rules at the company.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO and founder of NY based PR firm 5W Public Relations. Torossian is also the founder of the Ronn Torossian Foundation, and a lifelong New Yorker.

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Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.