Sir Richard Branson Gives a Lesson in Crisis Communications

When Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed in the Mojave Desert after a test flight, it made big headlines. But Sir Richard Branson’s response to the tragic incident is in itself, noteworthy.

According to a piece on, Branson was the one man the world’s media wanted to hear from after the crash, which killed one pilot and seriously injured the other (no passengers were on board). And Branson did not disappoint.

“What you do and say in the hours immediately after an incident set the tone by which an organization will be judged,” crisis PR specialist Jonathan Hemus, of Insignia Communications, told The Drum. “In common with Virgin’s response to a fatal train crash in Cumbria in 2007, Richard Branson’s first words and actions strike just the right note, not least in his decision to immediately fly to the scene,” said Hemus.

That’s a key point – Branson went out there immediately.

He communicated first via Twitter, focusing on the “brave pilots and families of those affected” and making sympathy and the human element the main aspect of his message.

“His use of the word ‘brave’ is interesting,” Hemus told The Drum. “It is another echo of the Cumbrian rail crash when the train driver was portrayed by Branson as a hero. It is both an act of solidarity and support for his employee, but also a smart attempt to influence the narrative of the story.”

Branson posted a longer blog piece later that evening while on his way to the crash site. He paid tribute to the people involved again and also added that he would “persevere” with the space project, according to The Drum.

Mark Lowe, with U.K. communications agency Third City, also spoke to The Drum about Branson.

“He always handles crises well, for two reasons,” said Lowe. “Firstly, he has a quality of empathy that is rare among senior businesspeople. Secondly, he gets ahead of the game, which he’s done this time with a very personal blog post that’s been picked up across international news outlets.”

Andy Barr, who runs the U.K. PR agency 10 Yetis, told The Drum that Branson has “once again proved he is the master when it comes to public relations in the face of adversity.”

Barr also mentioned Branson’s point of mentioning a commitment to the space project.

“He has managed to find the fine line between coming across as respectful of the family of the dead pilot, whilst also showing the steely nerve and determination to keep the program on track,” Barr told The Drum.

So in summary, Branson’s crisis communications lesson encompasses sincerity, genuine respect and care for victims/those affected by the crisis, empathy, immediate action, social media savvy and physical, not just verbal, response – getting to the scene of the crisis ASAP if possible.


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