Now that everyone is safe and “out”, stories start surfacing from all over. In one word: total PR failure.
Obviously the twittersphere and TechCrunch are exposing the twitter viewpoint here.
I use Eurostar well enough to know that there are good people working there.
In ordinary situations, it is an amazingly well oiled machine. 30,000 passengers per day go back and forth without a breeze. I also know they can be kind and very informative in case of delays or minor disruptions. But I can easily imagine what has happened this time:
Eurostar is after all a big bureaucracy with strict command lines.
Everyone is very good, trained and authorized to do his/her job, and only that job. In case of an emergency, there is certainly an emergency procedure in place. If the procedure is any good, it probably says something like this: “in case of emergency your role is to do XXX and to remain available for any other order from the control center”. And this: “passenger safety first”. And this: ” no external communication authorized”.
Why the last item? Because during a crisis you’re never sure of what caused it. Eurostar is one of the obvious targets of terrorist attacks. I would not be surprised if releasing any kind of information would first have to be seen and approved by government antiterror agencies.
What happened this time was an unprecedented situation.
Never before they had 5 trains stuck. Never before they had to actually evacuate trains. With Claudia Schiffer inside, who knows how many other celebrities swapping cities for the weekend, and maybe some politicians from/to COP15. (by the way it looks like she has NOT been given priority evacuation). I bet that it was panic in the control center and that “orders” have not gone out smoothly. The staff has been executing and waiting.
WWW: What went well and What went wrong
What went well: no casualties, no serious injuries, no long term damage to infrastructure.
What went wrong: everything else that could have gone wrong, especially in terms of PR.
@coletteballou, a leading French PR agent and tweep was inside one of the trains and is tweeting out bits of scary stories. Babies left without food or nappies. Hours spent in the cold and total darkness without news. Hours spent on cold buses waiting for someone to say “go” and leave. No food, no water. My favourite tweet: “Big shout out to passengers of #eurostar 9059: u were the only bright spot! Camaraderie was outstanding“. Other reports tell about pregnant women, elderly people, people in wheelchairs, and claustophobic panic attacks.
My conclusion so far
This is a scary story that shows once again that when even bright people become wheels of a machine, bad things can happen. They just stop thinking. I have to repeat that there are no casualties so the number 1 objective of an emergency plan has been met. But at what price? This could have turned into an amazingly positive heroic tale for Eurostar with just a few strokes of paint if they had communicated better.
0. Fire their internal PR team and external agents. Sorry guys, but you failed and seem still not to realize it. That’s when I decide to fire people.
1. Eurostar should now provide traffic updates through their web sites and Twitter every 15 minutes.
2. All Eurostar ground staff should be told to delay non-urgent queries (like refunds) and focus on getting people back home.
3. Eurostar should explain to the press what is going to happen tomorrow in terms of investigation and further actions. They should also be clarifying asap some of the stories – such as the Claudia Schiffer one – that might not be true.
UPDATE 22 DEC
Given new information filtered across in the past 2 days, it appears like Eurostar communication failure is more related to internal corporate divide between Eurostar and Eurotunnel rather than lack of marketing/PR skills. Although, the appalling interview of Eurostar chief exec still does not leave a nice impression of the PR department.
Todays’s feedback from Brand Republic shows someone at Eurostar marketing is trying to take a fresh look at things and hopefully will improve the overall communication processes. The core problem though is the same: if the tunnel operations are under the responsibility of Eurotunnel and they don’t know or can communicate, there will be little to say.