Crisis communication plans are important. A simple, obvious statement, but one that companies tend to overlook until they find themselves in the middle of a crisis. With how quickly information travels online, small issues can rapidly snowball generating negative press and reviews that can severely damage reputations (and search results).
Ram Racing, an events company most known for its Hot Chocolate 15/5K series, suffered such an event last December when its inaugural Hot Chocolate race in Washington, D.C. proved to be, well, an epic failure. I had the unfortunate experience of running this race and can confirm that the bad reviews are accurate. I won’t rehash all that went wrong here as there were numerous issues that day. The bottom line is that when people pay good money to participate in a race they expect certain things: a timely start, an accurately measured course, fully-stocked aid stations, and ensured safety. While some races, like all events, have glitches, RAM Racing failed to provide any of these back in December.
How did RAM racing respond? Not so well. Here’s a rundown of what the company did after the race:
- Deleted negative comments from its Facebook page
- Did not address the user-created Facebook page “Epic Fail – Hot Chocolate 5k/15K” that gained more than 1,500 fans in less than 24 hours
- Failed to respond to users on Twitter
- Issued an apology 36-hours after the race that placed blame on quite a few other organizations, people, and circumstances
- Did not follow-up with dissatisfied customers with any sort of compensation (which didn’t have to be monetary, in my opinion)
Yikes. As a public relations professional, I remember watching all of this unfold and being completely shocked at how the company handled this crisis, especially since the race is part of a national series with upcoming events in other cities. Knowing that many runners look for race reviews before forking over registrations fees, I wondered how RAM Racing planned to rebuild its reputation after such an onslaught of negative press.
Curious, I sent a note to RAM Racing suggesting the company donate the majority of registration fees to the charity partner. Since only a small portion of each runner’s registration fee went to charity, I thought RAM Racing could redeem itself by making a more significant charitable contribution and taking a smaller profit.
I received a casual “thanks-for-your-suggestion” email, but never heard anything else. It’s been two months since the race and so far I haven’t heard of RAM Racing trying to alleviate the disgruntled D.C. runners.
Over the last week, I’ve noticed a few blog posts pop up mentioning RAM Racing. From what I’ve read, it looks like the company put together a pretty nice dinner for influential running bloggers to build awareness for the Hot Chocolate 15/5K race in San Diego, CA.
I commend the company for proactively trying to generate positive buzz around its future races. Engaging these bloggers is a smart move as they are all widely-read with highly active communities with an interest in running and races. A couple of the bloggers noted that the president of RAM Racing addressed concerns about the D.C. race fairly and genuinely. This is certainly a good step in the right direction as the company tries to repair its damaged reputation.
But, what about those who still have bad tastes left from the D.C. race? Why hasn’t RAM Racing hosted a dinner with influential D.C.-based running bloggers or Twitter users? This has the potential to be a great forum to address concerns, solicit feedback, and – possibly – redeem RAM Racing and its races in the eyes of the very large running community here in the mid-Atlantic.
How else do you think RAM Racing could improve its reputation with those who participated in the D.C. race? Looking back at what RAM Racing did in the days following the event, do you think a communications plan would have helped them preserve their reputation?