Safety the key to regaining public trust in Dreamworld

Friday, 04 November, 2016

As the focus shifts from criticism of Ardent Leisure’s public response following last week’s Dreamworld tragedy to how the company will rebuild and regain the public’s trust, Deakin PR expert Ross Monaghan offers his insight on how the company can recover.

The public relations lecturer said with Dreamworld yet to re-open, Ardent Leisure’s share price dropping and continuing bad publicity, the future of the company was at stake.

“The process of rebuilding the public’s trust is a long road and one that Ardent Leisure really needs to get right,” Monaghan said.

“Firstly, they actually have to want to be a company that people can trust. They need to show that safety is top of their priority list, and that the bottom line is towards the bottom of the list.”

Monaghan said that Ardent Leisure also needed to keep the tragedy in the forefront of their communications.

“Any risk communication expert will tell you that you can’t stop talking about this, you need to be upfront with this,” Monaghan said.

“The feelings and views of families of victims and those injured need to be respected, but at the same time, the company can’t stop talking about it until people say they can stop talking about it — when it gets to the point where people say ‘yes, we’re aware of the awful tragedy. Now let’s move forward’, that’s when you can stop including mentions of it in your public statements.”

Monaghan said that after the media conference that saw Ardent Leisure CEO Deborah Thomas caught out stretching the truth on live television, the company needs to change the perception that they’ve been less than honest.

“Ardent Leisure needs to be open, honest and transparent in all its dealings with the public,” Monaghan said.

“Most importantly, they need to show that they value public safety above all. They need to set some goals and say to themselves ‘we’re going to be the safest theme park in the world’.

“They need to get their safety house in order first because any time there’s a safety incident now, the media is going to be all over it.

“If they’re fair dinkum, they need to be upfront on things like maintenance records — they need to be publicly available — and create an external consultative group comprising safety experts, local government, Work Safe, community members and representatives from the families of the victims.

“If they do have another safety incident they can’t hide behind it, they need to let the world know and be open and honest. The best PR for them is for nothing to happen in the future.

“And for that to happen, they need a very thorough and rigorous safety program.”

As for the reopening of Dreamworld, Monaghan said that was a difficult call to make and shouldn’t be rushed.

“I would think they need to consult with the families, the police, the city council and other stakeholders before they set a date for the reopening,” Monaghan said.

“Dealing with those families is going to be difficult, but it’s a conversation they need to have and they obviously haven’t done it well so far.

“I think they probably need to say ‘we’ll defer to the police and when they’re happy we will then do another audit of all their equipment and make sure that everything is absolutely right’.

“If that takes two or three weeks, then so be it.”

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