Utah Mine Collapse – A Communications Crisis

Unless you’ve had your head in a box recently, you know about the Utah mine collapse and the desperate search for six miners trapped inside.

Bob MurrayThe owner of Crandall Canyon mine, Robert Murray, isn’t known for being shy, and this is no exception. The outspoken Murray has been front-and-center since this crisis began.

A lot of people have written about the troubling aspects of this story like Murray Energy Corp’s safety record or suspicion that mining techniques caused the collapse, rather than seismic tremors as the company has claimed. They’ve done it way better than I could.

I’m going to put all those topics, and my distaste for Bob Murray in general, to one side and focus on the way that he has handled the mainstream media. It seems to be a case study in how not to handle a crisis. Here are three examples:

  1. Putting out unsubstantiated statements: From the outset, Murray put himself out in front of the cameras. Ok, that part is fine. Trouble is, he started making statements without anything to back them up. Seems that while the rest of the world is trying to work out what caused the collapse, Bob Murray knows for sure that it wasn’t the mining techniques used.
  2. Going off-message: Murray did relatively well at the beginning. His compassionate, caring messages got a lot of pick-up. Briefly. Unfortunately, before too long, Murray went off message. Way off message. Attacking the media, slamming the fight against global warming and defending the coal industry aren’t the right way to get people on your side. You know it’s bad when federal officials ask to take over your press conferences.
  3. Getting emotional: Showing emotion in front of the camera isn’t always a bad thing. If it’s the right emotion, that is. In this case, compassion, caring, concern. Those were the right emotions to show, and Murray showed them initially. As time goes on though, anger seems to be the more prevalent emotion. Not cool.

This was never going to be a good news story for Murray Energy Corp. The best they could hope for was to minimize criticism. Unfortunately, Bob Murray has become a lightning rod for criticism, most of which is directed at his handling of the situation rather than any potential cause of the situation itself. Time to get out of the limelight.

Also check out this brief analysis from Kathy Kerchner.

If you want an example of good crisis management, check out Mattel.

Edit (8/16): I just read BL Ochman’s less-than-glowing review of Mattel’s video message about the product recall. She makes some good points about Mattel’s business practices, but I give them credit for using multiple media to get the message out. She’s right about posting it on YouTube, though!

Another Edit (8/17): Turns out, another tragic collapse occurred at the mine as I wrote this post. Two thoughts. First, my best wishes go out to the rescue workers, their families and anyone else affected. Second, Bob Murray was noticeably absent from today’s news coverage.

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.