First Great Western : Responding to a crisis

Reputation-building stories are recovered from among bad news.

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The Site

First Great Western, UK regional rail service operator, finds compelling reputation-building stories in the midst of bad news, and an effective way of telling them.

First Great Western’s home page currently opens with four head-and-shoulders photographs of staff members filling the full-width featured content panel below the masthead banner. A caption box next to the ticket-finder tool that partially overlays one of the photos uses the headline ‘Great Westerner stories during the storm’ above a link to Find out more.

The link opens a standalone page headed by the same image panel set above a video viewing frame and menu carousel. An introduction explains that the company is “really proud of the way our staff reacted to the recent severe weather” [flooding and coastal storms were responsible for service cancellations and the continuing closure of a major rail link] and that there are “countless stories” of its employees’ extraordinary efforts to keep a service running. Five of the stories are the subject of the video selection. Each is a short (around 90 seconds) individual account related to camera in the person’s work environment and interspersed with related footage. The viewer includes an option to watch on YouTube and there are adjacent sharing links for Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

The Takeaway

The turbulent weather that caused large parts of First Great Western’s service to be washed away (literally in the case of one stretch of coastal track) was so extreme that even British rail passengers were likely to give the operator understanding rather than grief over the disruption to their journeys. Nonetheless, in moving quickly to highlight some of the compelling drama in recent events the company has shown how an editorial approach to coverage of such situations can help turn potentially bad news into a reputation-building opportunity externally – and a morale-boosting one internally.

Notable features of the Great Westerners stories include the relatively short ‘news report’ length and quality (professional but not too slick) of the videos, as well as the relative speed with which they have been produced and aired (and are being added to –three since its launch this week). The focus on individuals and integration with YouTube and the inclusion of sharing options further reinforce its case study value. There clearly has to be a communications team in the background committed and qualified (and resourced) to recognise and exploit the opportunity, as well as a supportive company culture. One improvement someone should find time for is reducing the size of overlay panels or integrating them better in the image display to avoid the wrong kind of coverage of some individuals.
First published 06 March, 2014
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