Thomas Cook comms strategy is 'too little, too late'

PR professionals and journalists have heavily criticised Thomas Cook's overall comms strategy in the aftermath of the high-profile deaths of two children on a holiday in Corfu.

Group chief executive Peter Fankhauser announced on Monday that Thomas Cook would donate the £1.5m it received in compensation for the incident to Unicef, following accusations that the firm had mismanaged the situation.

The group chief executive also made a public apology to the family after previously declining to do so when giving evidence at an inquest last week.

Bobby and Christi Shepherd, aged six and seven, died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty boiler while on holiday in Corfu with their father and his partner in 2006.

PRWeek understands that the global travel firm did not hire a PR agency to help with crisis comms over the incident. A source told PRWeek the majority of comms were handled in-house, with some assistance from Finsbury, which was retained for a general corporate and financial comms brief from November 2014.

"There has been a collective effort between in-house group PR, agency and in-house UK PR to address this issue," the source told PRWeek.

"The decision to donate the money to Unicef was made over the weekend. They needed to let the family know first and speak to Unicef, which is why we kept quiet at the time."

The source declined to say whether Thomas Cook offered compensation directly to the family before opting to make the donation to the children’s charity.

Two Thomas Cook employees were found not guilty in a criminal case, which took place in Greece in 2010. However, at a UK inquest last week, a verdict of unlawful killing was returned and it was concluded Thomas Cook had "breached its duty of care".

Thomas Cook confirmed it received £1.5m in compensation after insurance costs were deducted. This related to lost revenue, damage to reputation and court fees. Meanwhile, the parents of the Shepherd siblings were awarded £350,000 in compensation.

Despite the donation to Unicef, the reaction from industry professionals on social media was largely negative with many feeling that the gesture came too late and felt forced.

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