This is a collaborative post written by Jason Ouellette and Marki Conway.
Sunday's edition of the Boston Globe began a three-part series of eye-opening investigative journalism into Boston taxis, particularly, into the Boston Cab company. First of all, this is the type of quality journalism that keeps readers coming back, trusting sources and grateful that the media is digging deep to tell the public the stories that need to be heard.
It’s also refreshing to see this type of in-depth reporting in a world of 140-characters and here-and-gone news cycle. It has made such an impact that Boston's Mayor Menino has ordered a sweeping review into the Boston taxi system – despite the fact that the homepage for Boston Cab’s website proudly displays a photo of Mayor Menino getting into a Boston Cab. This may even be one of those news stories so important, that it actually motivates changes in legislature.
Boston Cab was spotlighted as a company with questionable business practices, mistreating drivers and severely underpaying victims of accidents involving Boston Cabs. And what is Boston Cab doing now that all three stories have been published? Crickets. Silence. We've heard nothing from the company's lawyers, PR team or the company's owner - Edward J. Tutunjian. Yes, Tutunjian wrote a letter to Globe reporters prior to the story being published, but he has not yet responded or reacted to the series, which portrays him and the company as soulless and corrupt.
If Boston Cab didn't have a crisis communications plan yet, they're kicking themselves now. We’ve been talking about having a crisis communications plan in place from day one since you never know what tomorrow will bring and it should be set up and managed by your external agency or internal communications team. Well, here is some unsolicited advice in how should they be responding.
- Come clean. First and foremost, they need to tell the truth. There is obvious confusion about the way Boston Cab is operating, with independent contractors and taxi medallions in separate corporations. Time for Tutunjian and his team to come clean and explain the business processes.
- Apologize. When the company does come clean, it will likely be revealed that some lawsuits or processes were handled improperly, and fessing up doesn't mean the job is done. Tutunjian owes the public an apology, perhaps as an open letter to the Boston Globe. With that apology, a kind gesture to some of the victims and their families would go a long way.
- Advocacy: The series spotlights two groups of Boston Cab constituents who have been allegedly mistreated, due to unjust legislation and insurance requirements. Tutunjian himself has noted that the $20,000 insurance payout requirement for Boston Cab accident victims isn't adequate, but that by law, it all that he is required to pay. Now is the time for the company and Tutunjian himself to take a stand and fight for more appropriate legislature, laying our plans for what is fair and using cities such at New York as an example. Tutunjian's own taxi drivers have also been victims of violent crimes and accidents, for which they have been poorly compensated. A good move now would be to advocate for safer taxi driving regulations that protect both drivers and passengers. This could be a better communications system to the main Boston Cab office, or camera requirements in cars. Whatever it is, Boston Cab has the opportunity to develop this "Safe Driver" plan, advocate for its adoptions and implement it.
- Rebuild the brand. Next comes major damage control. Boston Cab has a responsibility to the public, its passengers and its drivers. This calls for a major marketing blitz and community engagement. A couple of ideas could include:
- "Get to know Boston Cab" campaign, which uses the advertising slots on top of cabs to profile friendly cab drivers.
- Major donations to a rehab facility where motor vehicle accident victims go once they're in recovery.
- Sponsoring a tent at the Boston Marathon, portraying a positive image of Boston Cab in the community
- Engage in their active (and yet to launch) social communities. We live and work in a City that is all about transparency and engagement. Boston Cab should leverage our connected community.
- Posting “Did you know” facts on the interior of Boston Cabs, with fun, positive facts about the company, and safe riding tips
However Boston Cab decides to respond, the silent approach that it is choosing now is not the answer. And if they come out swinging with accusations to drivers, victims and reporters - that won't work for them either. How would you react if you were part of the Boston Cab communications team?