It was Saturday morning, and I was ready to wrap up a few quick errands before heading over to Memorial Golf Course. My last stop was at the local US Post Office and all I had to do, was drop in a pre-stamped envelope in the mailbox. In golf, that is a “gimme putt”.

When I pulled in front of the mailbox, I realized that something was seriously wrong. Someone had wrapped up the mailbox with every possible tape available to indicate the mailbox was not functional. We are all used to things being non-operational, but the way it was taped, it felt like it was a serious crime scene that had been zoned off. It was screaming “Run Arjun, run!”

I pulled into one of the parking spots and was now worried about my local Post Office. Questions started running through my mind, “Is everything ok? Has my Post Office closed? Hmm.” A week later I was driving by and saw the mailbox was back in order. I guess it was a simple temporary operational issue, but the over-reaction of the USPS staff made me, the customer, confused. They could have simply put a cover on it or a sign to indicate that this mailbox was non-operational at this time. They also could have reminded customers that they can walk in and drop off mail 24 hours a day. Any of those actions were justified for the problem at hand. USPS has 31,274 offices with mailboxes in the country and I am sure that this is not the first time a mailbox has been non-operational. They should have a plan and protocol for the down times.

Businesses often make the mistake of over-reacting when there is a problem. Recently, I was visiting a sports bar where one of the TV screens was broken. The management team had printed some poorly designed message on letter sized paper and pasted those on the busted TV. Why? We all know if a TV at a sports bar is not on, it must not be working. Do we really need a sign tell us that it is busted?

I have seen this especially true in my work with businesses as they go through crisis PR. In most cases things happen, and what we say or do after, can make it worse. I know this very well, as when I got in trouble with my parents growing up, I learned very early that the smartest thing to do is to keep my mouth shut. The moment I tried to explain or justify, the consequences simply sky rocketed. The same way, in a PR crisis, businesses must control their urge to share more. Instead, they must act with authenticity and transparency, and share only what is needed.


Here are three questions for your business:

  1. Are you aware of things that can go wrong for your business?
  2. Do you have a plan on what to do when things go wrong? I have seen it is better to make the plan ahead of time, when things are A-OK, otherwise it becomes like the USPS scenario where an employee used every tape available to seal the mailbox.
  3. Is the reaction to the crisis appropriate? This is key as an overreaction makes the customer confused and makes things worse.




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