Saturday, October 8, 2011

Speculating to the Media is Playing with Fire

Fire ExitImage by alykat via FlickrEarlier this week, an area chemical plant was engulfed in flames as a huge fire ripped through the facility. I watched with interest not just because of the captivating videos and shocked reactions to the unfolding catastrophe, but also as the local media scrambled to get the latest information from the scene from anyone who would talk. Anyone. One television news station found a worker willing to speak as the fire raged on screen.

What caught my attention about this was the potential for trouble from a PR perspective. The worker identified himself as an employee of the company and said that he lived near the chemical plant and was sleeping when he "heard a loud explosion." The camera was fixed squarely on the fire as the worker was being interviewed by phone from his home. During the phone interview the worker was asked about the incident and he said something that should make the hair on the neck of any good PR pro stand up on end:
"...I don't know exactly, but I can safely speculate that..."
[emphasis added]

In a crisis situation, this is one of those things that you hope never happens from one of your employees. Proper communication protocol and training should be provided. In my opinion, that worker should have never taken on the role as unofficial spokesperson for the chemical company. I don't know what, if anything, happened to the worker that was interviewed.

It's one thing to provide some decent context to a situation by sharing background information on things you know to be true. It's something completely different (not to mention, an awful idea) to provide guesses about the situation on the fly to the media before any official word has been available. As the problem unfolds on live television. After just waking up. Good grief, what a stupid move.  

What do you think, am I being to harsh on this worker's decision to share? Or should his career go up in flames for this lapse in judgment? The comments are yours.
Thankfully, according to plant officials, employees and visitors of the chemical plant evacuated safely and two employees sustained minor injuries but were not hospitalized.

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