5 Crisis Communication Tips We Can Learn from the Cincinnati Zoo
By now, it’s highly probable that you’ve heard a variety of opinions about the Cincinnati Zoo incident. The zoo is undergoing criticism for shooting one of its nine western lowland gorillas on Saturday to protect a 4-year-old boy who climbed through the exhibit’s barricade and fell into the gorillas’ habitat.
The tragic incident has resulted in an uproar. Many are infuriated by the zoo’s action, while others stand in favor of the response team’s decision. One thing’s for sure: it’s been a PR nightmare for the Cincinnati Zoo.
The situation is heartbreaking, but we’re giving a pat on the back to the Cincinnati Zoo’s crisis communication team for the way they’ve handled the days following the gorilla, Harambe’s, death. Here are five tips for effective crisis communication response that the zoo has done a nice job putting into action.
1. Identify a spokesperson and a crisis team.
Interactions with media should go through this team only so that all messaging is clear and consistent. (Marx Layne)
Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard held a press conference two days after the incident and has been their consistent spokesperson.
2. Tell your own story before someone else does.
If you wait too long to address an issue, others will fill in the gaps for you, and they might not know what’s really going on. (Fallston Group)
The zoo posted a statement on Facebook the day after the incident, detailing what happened and why their response team took the course of action they did.
3. Know what you’re talking about.
Quickness is key, but be sure your crisis team knows the facts before they address the public.
In their communication online and via social media, the zoo went through a thorough explanation of the options facing the response team and why alternatives, such as tranquilizers, posed too great a risk given the situation.
4. Be transparent.
Crises are often associated with real tragedy, and companies are made up of people, not robots. Express empathy for those harmed through the situation, and be real about the challenges associated with it. (PR News)
“We are heartbroken about losing Harambe,” said Maynard. “But a child’s life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made by our Dangerous Animal Response Team.” Through these words, he expressed the reality that the zoo is saddened by the loss of the gorilla, but demonstrated that it was a tough situation and the response team ultimately had to choose the child over the animal.
5. Don’t shift blame.
People want to see that leaders can admit mistakes. Take responsibility for what went wrong and demonstrate that you’re holding yourselves accountable for avoiding a similar crisis in the future.
Despite the many accusations made against the parents of the boy who fell into the exhibit, the zoo has not tried to put the blame on the family. While Maynard did emphasize the rarity of the situation, the zoo has also taken steps to improve the barriers in their Gorilla World exhibit, which will reopen on Tuesday.