PR CRISIS – Virgin Galactic crash

Sir Richard Branson was praised in his response to the tragic Virgin Galactic crash. Brands need a strong leader in order to navigate them through a crisis and Virgin was under the spotlight when their Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight back in November. The crash resulted in one pilot’s death and another one who was seriously injured. Instead of hiding away from the media’s spotlight, Branson addressed the situation head on. This decision was praised by many crisis management experts who feel that other businesses could take some notes from Branson’s approach.

Not only was the project another brand in his Business Empire, but it was also a part of his dream to make commercial space travel a reality. An initial response to a crisis determines how people will perceive your brand.

Branson made the decision to fly out to Mojave, which he announced on Twitter, to pay tribute. His central messaged focused on emotions and sympathy which set the tone and affected how his brand would be perceived. Branson aligned himself with his employees which showed an act of solidarity. Branson told CBS’s “This Morning”,

“We need to know exactly what happened to make absolutely certain it will never happen again,”

He vowed that he would investigate the cause of the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft test flight crash and proactively address the situation. He delivered an authentic narrative which really resonated with the public and thus influenced the narrative of the crisis. Branson built a level of trust and so the public and media were more likely to not focus on who was to blame but rather on how they could move forward.

Branson also posted a blog on his way to the crash site which highlights how he was staying in control of the narrative. This personal blog showed consideration and sympathy but also was used as a source for international news organisations. There is a human element within the blog post as Branson aims to open a dialogue with the world about this tragic situation.  Andy Barr who runs 10 Yetis said,

“He has managed to find the fine line between coming across as respectful of the family of the dead pilot, whilst also showing the steely nerve and determination to keep the program on track.”

A nine-month investigation was conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board. The Guardian reported on 28th July, “Virgin Galactic crash: co-pilot unlocked braking system too early, inquiry finds”. This article highlighted how the crash was a result of human error and poor safety procedures. Having said this, Branson’s strategy to stay one step ahead and be proactive in his response appealed to the nature of the public. They were more likely to give him the benefit of the doubt and he came across as being truly considerate as opposed to being business focused. I feel that this situation is an example of how brands and business leaders should be during a crisis e.g. proactive, transparent, honest and able to facilitate an emotional connection.

[Featured Image is not my own]



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