Paul Holmes 27 May 2001 // 11:00PM GMT
The Hollywood spotlight initially cast Roadway Express, Inc. in a negative light when 55 "Oscar" statuettes disappeared from its Los Angeles loading dock a week and a half prior to the Academy Awards ceremony. The crisis management and public relations plan implemented by Dix & Eaton and Roadway Express was a dynamic and on-going process, developing and modifying as events unfolded. There were several messages to convey: that Roadway always takes full responsibility for all if its cargo; that it has successfully handled delivery of the Oscars for many years; and that it was cooperating fully with the investigation of the theft. Dix & Eaton provided media training, monitored broadcast and Internet news coverage, prepared news releases and media statements to cover every possible contingency, and coordinated the reward presentation and news conference with the Los Angeles Police Department after the stolen trophies were found. What makes this case a worthy candidate is that this was a high-profile case that garnered international attention, lasted only a week and demanded, on the part of Dix & Eaton, an empathic understanding of the interests of Roadway, the Motion Pictures Academy and the public.
The most significant challenge Dix & Eaton and Roadway Express faced was the coordination of a press conference in Los Angeles with the L.A. Police Department, the local Roadway Express representative and the man who found the Oscars. This was a unique challenge because Dix & Eaton and Roadway Express are both located in Northern Ohio and we had less than six hours to create a news conference in California. The many hurdles included getting the okay from the LAPD that they would participate, finding a location for the conference, informing the media, procuring a promotional $50,000 check for photo opportunities, media training the Roadway representative, and finding an agency willing to do all the logistics at the last minute in Los Angeles. We were able to make all of this happen and the press conference garnered national coverage.
One unexpected opportunity for Dix & Eaton was the knowledge and expertise we gained by monitoring the Internet. The Oscar theft saw heavy media coverage and tended to follow the story from the Motion Picture Academy's perspective without much public opinion. On the other hand, the Internet chat rooms offered immediate and continual input from the public. Understanding public opinion became a useful resource while crafting statements and releases and also in making the case for offering the reward to the man who found the statues.
By its very nature, a crisis demands swift and intelligent handling; and no matter how prepared a company is, a crisis always takes it by surprise. After exhausting all of its resources in tracking the lost Oscars, Roadway Express called Dix & Eaton to help manage this situation. There is, of course, no preliminary research in a crisis, but one of Dix & Eaton's initial steps was to set up monitoring of all media and the Internet. Roadway Express's initial objectives were three fold: allow its customer, The Motion Pictures Academy, to handle the media interest; second, Roadway Express hired a private investigative firm to aid the Los Angeles Police Department in its investigation of the theft; and third, Roadway Express offered a $50,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s).
As events unfolded, it became evident that Roadway Express would need to take a more active role; they were meeting with negative press from the Motion Picture Academy, and customers were calling inquiring about Roadway Express' standards for protecting their freight. Within a few days, the statues were recovered and Roadway Express committed to offering a second $50,000 reward to the man who found the Oscars.
The results of the press conference for the award presentation were tremendous. Roadway conveyed its appreciation to the man who found the Oscars, customer loyalty was maintained, Roadway Express garnered national positive news coverage, and the effect on their freight business was negligible.