Few companies in America enjoy a reputation as strong as Southwest Airlines. Its customers may not get tattoos of the company’s logo, but millions of consumers turn to the airline because of its reputation for providing reliable and fairly priced air travel.
The recent news coverage of the grisly death of a Southwest passenger has posed a challenge to that brand loyalty. After all, reputations are finicky things. Famed investor Warren Buffett once noted, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
While Buffett is right, it also represents the extreme. Southwest had a bad moment, but it is insulated from more serious consequences because of the brand loyalty it has earned over the previous decades. Customers trust it to provide quality service, and three months after the incident the company has only seen a slight decline in bookings.
The most damaging PR crises are those that happen to companies that haven’t already earned that level of trust with customers. Once the public is suspicious of you, it is much harder to get them to trust you. That work has to be done before any issues arise, or as part of a lengthy campaign following an issue.
Jeremy Story is a Vice President at GroundFloor Media, where he co-leads the firm’s Crisis, Reputation and Issues Management practice. He has more than 20 years of experience helping companies ranging from start-ups to the Fortune 100 prepare for, manage, and recover from crisis issues.