Why a competitor’s crisis media management incident could be bad news for you

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Why a competitor’s crisis could be bad news for you

If one of your competitors is suffering a PR crisis you might be tempted to try to take advantage of their mistakes and misfortune.

It is perfectly natural to think you may gain from their errors.

Certainly this was an approach adopted by several airlines when one of their competitors endured a recent reputation crisis.

In fact, when damaging footage emerged of a bloodied passenger being dragged off a United Airlines flight, a number of competitors appeared to queue up to poke fun.

Royal Jordanian, for example, tweeted a picture of a cigarette alongside the text ‘we are here to keep you #united Dragging is strictly prohibited’.

Qatar Airways and Emirates were among others who joined in the trolling, but even in the banter fuelled world of social media this was a risky approach.

The thing with a competitor’s crisis is that the media’s focus is suddenly thrust on your industry. It has become part of the news agenda.

'A competitor’s crisis puts the media’s focus firmly on your industry' http://bit.ly/2s1SkB7 via @mediafirstltd

If you cast your mind back again to the United Airlines incident you may recall that in the following weeks a number of other stories were covered about other airlines and altercations between passengers and their staff, complete with video footage.

None of these incidents were as dramatic as what had taken place on that now infamous United flight, yet they still received huge amounts of media and social media coverage.

I believe it is highly unlikely any of them would have been covered at all without the United incident preceding them. But the crisis which had engulfed their competitor now made these relatively minor incidents relevant and timely for the media, creating a raft of damaging headlines. It had made them newsworthy and forced those airlines into a crisis of their own.  

‘Newsworthy’ is something of a mysterious term, but on our media training courses we use the acronym TRUTH to demystify it a little. It stands for:

T – topical; of the moment, timely, new and something people are talking about

R - relevant to a specific audience

U – unusual; not what people already know or expect. Something which will surprise the audience. Is it the first? The biggest? The smallest? In the world of social media it is something which will make people click through to the story (clickbait).

T – trouble. Introducing, solving or identifying possible trouble. Not all news is bad – some of the greatest news stories have been about things that have solved a problem, such as new technology or improvements in medical science.

H – human interest. What is in it for people? What impact will it have on your customers?


You can see from that how some of the lesser airline altercations included some of the elements of this acronym.

Journalists love stories which tie into a current event and feature something people are already talking about.

If one of your competitors suffers a crisis media management incident, rather than poking fun, or simply enjoying the show and thinking ‘rather them than us’, a much better approach is to consider how it could impact your own organisation.

'If one of your competitors suffers a crisis, consider how it could impact your own organisation' http://bit.ly/2s1SkB7 via @mediafirstltd

This should include considering whether anything similar has happened to you which the media could focus on.

Also consider your own vulnerabilities. Do your policies, for example, need reviewing in light of what has happened to your rival? If you worked for an airline you might have used the incidents we have mentioned in this blog to refresh your staff’s customer care training.

Consider whether your spokespeople have had recent media exposure or media training and ensure you have holding statements prepared which you could issue quickly if the media spotlight was to fall on you.

This is also a really good time to assemble your crisis team and test your crisis comms plan with likely scenarios to ensure you can deliver an effective response if the worst happens.

Finally, make sure you have good media and social media monitoring tools in pace. A rival’s crisis can easily give wings – to stick with the airline theme – to negative sentiment and impact the wider industry.





Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our journalist-led crisis communication and media training courses.


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