Three reasons Merlin’s crisis communications approach has been the right one

PLMR Deputy MD Elin de Zoete on how the Alton Towers owner handled their recent crisis

Last night, I was invited onto Sky News’ Ian King Live programme to talk about how Merlin has handled crisis communications in the wake of the Alton Towers roller coaster crash. You can watch a clip here:

PLMR Deputy MD Elin de Zoete on how the Alton Towers owner handled their recent crisis

On the same day that the Merlin Group had issued a profit warning, that predicted up to £47 million could be wiped off the bottom line, you might think that Merlin would come in for some criticism. But here are three reasons why I think Merlin has demonstrated exemplary crisis communications leadership, that will stand them in good stead for a full financial recovery in the mid to long term:

1. Victims have been put first – in all communications

In Merlin’s proactive and fast approach to inviting compensation claims and in the decision to scale back key seasonal marketing out of respect, the victims have been the priority, not the bottom line. This will be remembered for much longer than short term disruption to the balance sheet

2. CEO Nick Varney has shown excellent leadership

From the outset the CEO has been visible, open and has taken responsibility. Contrast this to the handling of the Costa Concordia cruise liner sinking, where the CEO wasn’t mentioned at all in the first official statement. Good crisis handling requires the responsible person within the organisation to step up, be accountable and show empathy and sympathy

3. Decisive action has been taken

In order to move any crisis forward, it is necessary to show people that not only are you sorry, but that you will make operational changes to ensure a similar event doesn’t happen again.  Merlin immediately shut down Alton Towers and a number of other rides across their Resort Theme Park Group, to assess health and safety. They have since upgraded their protocols across the estates. Additionally a no expense spared rigorous analysis is still ongoing at The Smiler, some two months later, to try to get to the bottom of the fault.  This belt and braces approach led to public acknowledgment from the victims that Alton Towers’ response has been thorough

So, although the profit warning yesterday shook the market, Merlin have put all of the right ingredients in place to rebuild in the long-term. Their diligence and sensitivity to the victims of this terrible accident is what will eventually be remembered.

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PLMR’s crisis communications experience is second to none, and includes pre-emptive and reactive work across traditional and social media channels. We work with a range of organisations to offer critical communication support when they are faced with difficult and challenging scenarios.