Five Tips for Effective Crisis Response Videos

Late last month, a Southwest Airlines pilot was suspended for delivering an unsavory, bigoted rant about flight attendants over the plane’s cockpit radio.

Through its spokesperson, the company issued an apology that riled both customers and crisis communicators. To many the response seemed incomplete, and after the Southwest spokesperson called the pilot’s punishment a “family issue,” commenters overwhelmed the Southwest Facebook page.

After initially stumbling with its response, Southwest made a good decision by issuing a video response from its chief pilot, Chuck Magill. The company has a great reputation for handling customer complaints and concern. So I was interested to see how they were going to use this easy and effective tool to handle what had turned into a full-blown crisis.

The strategy was a perfect take off. The execution was a rough landing.

In the video, you can see Magill’s eyes following cue cards off screen. His delivery is wooden, and it makes the apology seem forced.

Video is a great communication tool, allowing companies to reach out directly to customers and stakeholders in a personal way. But it’s only effective if the viewer believes what the speaker is saying. Sincerity is at the heart of any effective apology and is a key first step in effective long-term reputation management.

Here are five tips that could have helped humanize the Southwest video. Hopefully they can help your executives the next time you put them on camera.  

1. Don’t script

It’s an easy trap to fall into for professional communicators and their executives. We’re the writers. They’re busy.

But the Southwest video shows what happens when you script. Even for the most dynamic executives, scripts are a crutch. They make you shut off your personality and read.

The reason to post a video during a crisis is to engage with your audience. If you can see the glow of the teleprompter bouncing of your executive’s eyes, you’re not engaging anyone.

2. Watch out for talking points

  • We’re professional writers.
  • We’re trained to write in complete sentences.
  • Complete sentences are not talking points.

A script is still script, even if you turn bullets on in your Word doc. A bulleted script might help prevent your exec from stumbling when they’re reciting it, but they’ll still struggle to make it personal and put their own flavor on it.

3. So what do good bullets look like?

  • Incomplete sentences
  • Reminders: (Tell the anecdote about the customer)
  • Include the key message s
  • Keep them short

4. Keep it simple and sincere

The longer winded the answer, the more defensive your executive will sound and the more likely your viewers will lose interest. Short sentences and honest emotion convey that your executive and your company understand the severity of the issue. Apologize, explain what you’re doing to correct the crisis, tell the viewers why it won’t happen again, thank them for watching and shut off the camera.

5. Rehearse, rework, repeat

Before the camera goes on, walk through the bullet points and help your executive make the message his or her own. If they start to ramble, help them find a way to simplify what they want to say.

Yes, your CEO or president will likely insist he or she has limited time. But taking a little grief for making them do a run-through is much better than being called to their office to explain why the crisis continued to escalate.

What are other ways you’ve helped reluctant video subjects feel more relaxed on camera?

  • Jessica

    Southwest is usually a great example of a communications-savvy company, but I have to agree, that video does not seem sincere at all.

    Wardrobe choice is also important in video communications, so at least he wasn’t wearing a suit!