Royce Rolls with the punches but is the response lightweight?

Rolls' image rocking

Rolls Royce has seen around $1.5bn wiped off its stock market value since the dramatic failure of one of its engines aboard a Qantas A380 last week. See this video for a great outline from the BBC.

And yet, the response from their PR team (if indeed it was them who responded) has been tardy in the extreme, with some analysts and PR professionals (namely Lewis PR chief officer Paul Charles) claiming it had “the whiff of BP about it”  – see more on my thoughts on that debacle here

The manufacturing giant finally issued a statement this morning explaining that the problem was due to a specific component in the engine’s turbine and that it is working on a solution. Standard stuff. However, it was very late and left much conjecture in the meantime, mainly formed from rumour and ill-informed chatter on the internet.

In a PR crisis, it is crucial to have as much control as possible of the information flow. That doesn’t mean spin. It means accuracy. It means stopping rumours before they escalate and establishing a dialogue with the press and the key stakeholders. Observers have criticised the firm for its arcane approach to marketing communications throughout the last week, claiming that social media should have had a part to play. Whatever the tactics, it is clear something more should have been done.

Granted, during this trying week Rolls Royce has just unveiled a whopping £1bn deal in China, timed perfectly with the visit of David Cameron (no cynical comments please) and maybe they thought that they would try to smother, if not bury, the bad news with this deal. Problem is, bad news doesn’t just drift off. It gathers momentum in the void. So, whilst one eye was on the China ball, another should have been firmly focussed on the engine failure.

The result has been huge share price volatility and a wave of negativity about this great British manufacturing beacon. Again, it is tricky to judge comments in such times, for fear of making the situation worse but that doesn’t mean giving it the old silent treatment. Indecision never pays.

In the short-term, the statement has been made, they move on and look to the Chinese order as another positive sign but in the long-term, the damage to the brand and the business may be greater yet.

The Press For Attention Prescription

Silence is far from golden. Any business, large or small should have a crisis communications plan in place – see my entry on this specific topic here but a plan is worth nothing unless it is actually dusted off and put into action. I cannot imagine that the crisis communications plan of Rolls Royce is “Sssshhh, maybe it will go away” so something else has played a part but what? Ah, more silence. I think it’s time to open up guys. We all like you and the UK needs you.