Bad things happen and, while media management can influence and mitigate the negative media coverage of these situations, bad news will usually be reported. But the story doesn’t have to end there. Bad things are often followed by really good things, and if managed correctly an incident can be remembered not just for the bad news, but also for the good news that followed.
When the MV Wakashio went aground on a reef in Mauritius and subsequently spilt bunker fuel into the tropical waters, the news and pictures went around the world. Many people heard about (and remember) this incident.
The subsequent clean-up and salvage operations removed not just the spilt oil and the wreck of the vessel, but also large quantities of trash and other pollutants that had accumulated in the lagoon over many years. While I certainly do not mean to downplay the long-term seriousness of oil and other pollutants in the environment, by some measures the lagoon is now actually more pristine than it was before the Wakashio went aground, but how many people know this?
When the final section of the Wakashio wreck was removed on 16 January 2022 there was very little coverage. Indeed, there were fewer than 500 articles mentioning the Wakashio in the whole month of January. This compares to 2,500 articles a day at the time of the pollution incident.
This unbalance between how the incident was reported and how the solution was reported can be a problem for our industry. People hear extensively about the mess, but all too often don’t hear that shipping has cleaned it up.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Good news can be big news with the right relationships and some public relations tradecraft. Companies often breathe a sigh of relief when the worst of an incident is over and the media attention shifts to something else, but there is still more work to be done if the company, the salvors, the P&I Club and our industry at large is to get the credit that is due.
Clean-up can make a great story. The images and statistics of the crane barge (Hong Bang 6) used to remove the Wakashio wreck are impressive. The trucks full of old fridges, tires and other assorted garbage removed from the lagoon were sobering. The science behind an effective clean-up is impressive. The ingredients were there for a great story – a story of our industry doing the right thing. So why was it barely told?
Companies need to be willing to see a story through to the end and it can be tough. There is a financial cost to continuing to communicate, but more critically continued communication requires a continued willingness to be open, forthcoming, transparent and to stay in the headlines – often a hard sell.
The onus is also on the crisis communications agencies to have the skills and connections to see a story through. I’ve written before about the differences between crisis comms and PR
In a crisis you need a specific skillset and package of resources and strategies – this is why Navigate Response was founded to focus exclusively on crisis communications. But if you’re going to tell the story of the good news that follows the bad, that’s when you need a PR mindset. A team of people who can find the hooks that will make the good news clean-up story (almost) as compelling as the story of the original pollution incident.
Navigate Response is unique in the maritime crisis communications industry in that we were set up by a maritime PR company, Navigate PR, and we remain sister companies working out of the same office. When needed, we can pivot from a crisis comms strategy to a strategy that gets the good news out there to balance out and provide context for the original bad news.