Zika, the Oil Spill and Help for Communicators

by Kim Stangle

One of the most important client success stories we’ve told in the last decade has been about our work for South Walton (the Tourist Development Council) on the heels of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.  With tourism as its main economic driver, the destination faced a crisis of epic proportions when news of the spill hit and visitors feared the pristine white-sand beaches they loved would be covered in tar balls.

Deepwater_Horizon_offshore_drilling_unit_on_fire_2010
Our team worked alongside the TDC’s communication staff to develop a crisis communication plan that would ensure visitors would continue booking trips as they’d done for so many years before.  The plan included scenario-based messaging; a blog that was updated daily to show real-time images of beach conditions; and, a variety of other communication tools.

Ultimately, the drop in bookings was a fraction of what initial research indicated was possible and they rebounded dramatically in the years to follow.

It’s hard not to immediately draw comparisons to the latest news coming out of South Florida—Miami Beach, specifically—where the latest Zika outbreaks are crippling an otherwise bustling tourism spot.

While an oil spill is hardly the same as a mosquito-transmitted virus, the communication challenges are similar.  Perception is a powerful motivator of fear and communicators must work to provide a constant flow of accurate information if they seek to separate fact from fiction.

For help with crisis communications and other public relations issues, check out our case studies and white papers.

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