10 November 2016

Dreamworld: A case study of ineffective management

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I have always had a place in my heart for Dreamworld, the popular family theme park located in Gold Coast. This theme park has always been my favourite among the other theme parks in the same area.

With the recent tragedy on the 25th October 2016 that took place on the family ride, Thunder River Rapids, claiming the life of 4 adults due to a malfunction of the system, it has affected me, and many Australian families who grew up with the park, deeply.

Dreamworld has 1.8 million visitors each year coming from across Australia as well as the globe. Its tagline is “Happiness”, which can be found written on their logo and also their app named “Happiness”, signifying that guests are there for happiness. However, after this tragic incident, many people will not trust the brand or feel it is safe to return.

In times of crisis such as this, it is important that the company handle their crisis communication and media properly to try and save their brand and reputation. Unfortunately for Dreamworld, or their parent company, Ardent Leisure, it seems like this event has caught them by surprise and they have not had a plan for crisis management.

From this tragic incident, we could learn some important lessons on what NOT to do when managing crisis.

Over the past week, CEO of Ardent Leisure, Deborah Thomas has copped immense media backlash for her poor media performance and has even received death threats to her family. In times of crisis, timing is really important. Since the occurrence of this incident, it took two days before Deborah spoke publicly, and it was at their AGM, a statutory business meeting. If it wasn’t for the AGM, would she have not spoken to public at all?

Prior to that, the only form of communication was through a written statement on the situation. In today’s day and age where people are prefer to receive news through social media almost the minute an incident happens, this is not good enough, especially when there is a huge media presence on Dreamworld’s premises right after the incident.

To make matters worse, the CEO was given a performance bonus of potentially up to $860,000. Don’t forget, this was two days right after the death of four people on one of their theme park’s rides. Although Ardent Leisure explained this was a long-term bonus, however, the public could only think of the deaths that have occurred.

On top of this, the CEO mentioned at the AGM that the company has reached out to the families affected to offer support and assistance, however she was quickly contradicted by a journalist who was in touch with two of the victims’ family saying the family was furious at the suggestion that they had been offered support when they are yet to hear from the company. When such a situation arises, it is important for the company to be in contact with those affected to keep them in the loop with all updates.

On Dreamworld’s website, besides an announcement notice on their homepage outlining that the park has been closed due to an incident earlier in the week, there was no mention of the victims involved or a link for media statements or further information about latest updates. The only information by the company was only addressed to the ASX, making it as if the company doesn’t care about anything else but their share price.   

Originally, the park was set to re-open four days later, beginning the day with a memorial ceremony for the victims and all entrance fees for the day to go to charity; however this was not consulted with the police who were still in the middle of investigations and in the end they had to defer their opening date. This re-opening day was also set on the day that the mother of two victims would be viewing their bodies, which would have been another stab at the broken heart.

Managing crisis is an important aspect for all companies and it must be done appropriately and timely to save further damage to the brand. Akolade’s Corporate Communications & PR Leadership Forum being held on the 21-23 February 2017 brings together communications leaders from Australia’s top employers to provide skills on how PR and Communications teams could take a strategic leadership role to influence and drive change and growth.

Being brought up in a typical Chinese family in Australia, Vivian takes pride as an ABC (Australia-born Chinese) where she happily embraces both the Chinese and Australian cultures. 

In high school, Vivian wanted to become a fashion designer, however she has developed a passion for running events after working backstage for multiple live shows. Prior to starting at Akolade, Vivian worked 4 years in the wine industry and she misses the wine tasting sessions and openly drinking on the job. As the Assistant Marketing Manager, Vivian enjoys using her creativity to design unique and fun campaigns for each event. In her spare time, Vivian loves to spend time with her two adorable pets; a cat and a dog. 

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