By: Sarah Copeland
Last night I watched The Martian for the first time. It was a very interesting movie but the whole time I kept thinking: Dang that PR team must have been working REALLY hard. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, and without me spoiling anything, all you really need to know is that there was a really bad storm on Mars and during the evacuation NASA basically left an astronaut stranded on a desolate planet. That accident is hard to explain to the public because that is one BIG “whoops”.
So NASA basically had to do two things. First, they had to find a way to rescue their abandoned astronaut. Second, they had to handle the press asking a range of question about NASA procedures and missions. Originally NASA and the media thought that the astronaut was dead and therefore NASA was dealing with giving a statement about how awful it was to lose a member of their team but it is a well-known risk of space travel. It became a worse situation when they found out he was alive.
So why was this a crisis? Well, when you accidentally leave an astronaut on another planet with limit resources and no plans to go back to the planet for another four years, you have a big problem. The first best practice of PR I saw was when they found out he was alive. NASA did not try and hide the fact they mistakenly announced the death of their astronaut. Instead, NASA released the information within 24 hours along with a statement. Then they worked on a rescue mission. This shows basic crisis communication stages of identifying a crisis and working out ways to fix the crisis while staying transparent.
I know this is more of a sci-fi film but I honestly think it would be great for PR students who are especially interested in crisis communication. There are plenty of instances where the NASA director didn’t use his best judgement and had to take the fall when it came to informing the public of failures. This movie didn’t always show the backlash from the public but you definitely saw the difficulties NASA went through when deciding how to handle their crisis.
Of course, there are ranges of difficulty when it comes to handling crises. This one just so happened to be massive and in the form of an interesting movie. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use a good movie to talk about PR.
Bernstein, J. (2015). The 10 Steps of Crisis Communications | Bernstein Crisis Management. Retrieved March 17, 2016, from http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com/the-10-steps-of-crisis-communications/
Clawson Freeo, S. K. (n.d.). Crisis Communication Plan. Retrieved March 17, 2016, from http://www.niu.edu/newsplace/crisis.html
The Martian – Zone 6. (2016). Retrieved March 17, 2016, from http://www.zone-six.net/2016/02/01/the-martian/
What is crisis communications? – SHIFT Communications PR Agency – Boston | New York | San Francisco | Austin. (2013, April 02). Retrieved March 17, 2016, from http://www.shiftcomm.com/blog/what-is-crisis-communications/