Brower: Is there really no such thing as bad publicity? Consider Ski Granby Ranch (column)
March 2, 2017
The famed 19th Century showman P. T. Barnum is credited with saying "There's no such thing as bad publicity."
Yet in the wake of the tragedy at Granby Ranch Dec. 29 when a woman died and her two children were injured due to a chairlift mishap, I think you'd find people at Ski Granby Ranch and the Granby community in general disagreeing with Mr. Barnum's famed chestnut.
The resort and Granby in general did get bad publicity, which caused drops in business both at the resort and at associated local businesses in the area. And it did give the resort and the area a black-eye. But aside from the public relations side, I know that many people in the community and at the resort were deeply saddened by the loss of life and injury.
For any business operating in Grand County I think there are some lessons to be learned from the Granby Ranch incident. Any business operating most any time anywhere can suddenly be the apparent target of bad publicity. A person could be severely injured on a business's premises. A person could eat food at a restaurant that causes severe illness. A business can unknowingly inflict harm while operating with the best of intentions.
The first result of these will be bad publicity probably followed by a lawsuit. The lawyers can wrangle cause and effect and blame. But the business can control the image of a business impacted by a bad-publicity event.
I think the very first impression that should be conveyed to the public is sorrow and sympathy. The world should know that the business cares about the victims and is saddened by the incident. This should be repeated and repeated, perhaps with a bit of news that would back up that sentiment.
Granby Ranch, for instance, is raising money from its business through a portion of lift fees to go to a fund for the family affected by the tragedy. This news strongly conveys a feeling of sympathy and sorrow. That will sink in with consumers. It's inevitable that there will be talk of cause and who is to blame, but this should be secondary in the messaging. Sympathy should come first, explanations second. Accidents happen, after all, no matter who or what is to blame.
There is a silver lining in this sad story. As a result of the bad publicity the community of Granby (including Granby Ranch, Grand Elk, the town of Granby and local citizens) have come together to try and find a way to counter the apparent stain on the image of Granby Ranch and Granby in general. A total of 22 people gathered at a community meeting on this very topic at the Granby Town Hall of Feb. 22. It was a reassuring and fruitful gathering.
That's the first good news: Unity in the face of strife that recognizes the people and businesses of the entire Granby basin have a community of interest in touting the Granby area's good reputation.
As a direct outgrowth of that meeting community solidarity behind Granby Ranch has been demonstrated. A team is working hard on new branding and a new image for the Granby area. The Granby Chamber of Commerce, the town, Granby Ranch and other community players are all involved.
So, perhaps, Mr. Barnum was only partially wrong about there being no such thing as bad publicity. Any well-intentioned and conscientious business impacted by tragedy and bad publicity should know that good things and good publicity can surface following the tragic event. The better news won't change the facts, but it will improve the perception of the facts.
Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He provides free and confidential business management coaching for anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached at 970-531-0632 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.