Client: Greyhound Lines (Dallas)
PR Team: In-house, with Burson-Marsteller
Campaign: Response to October 3 incident
Time Frame: October 3 - October 24
Budget: Part of normal PR budget
On October 3, 2001 at about 4:15am and about 60 miles outside Nashville,
TN, a Greyhound bus driver was attacked by a passenger. The driver lost
control, and the ensuing accident resulted in six deaths, provoking
immediate speculation that the incident was related to the September 11
Greyhound found itself dealing with a human tragedy, a logistical
transportation problem, and an increasingly skittish public.
Once officials at Greyhound became aware of the incident, the first
priority was to make a decision regarding the company's services across
the country, and to mount an internal communications effort to reach out
to the buses still on the road (the company runs about 2,000 buses a
Next, Greyhound needed to communicate the full nature of the situation
to the media, including details of fatalities and injuries. It was
crucial that the company put the incident in its proper context, to
reassure passengers that it was an isolated case not related to
Finally, the company wanted to continue its ongoing discussions with the
Department of Transportation (DoT) and the pubic about increasing
security for passengers and drivers.
The incident was reported to the Greyhound manager on duty in the early
morning hours of October 3. The chairperson of Greyhound's crisis team
evaluated the details that were available at the time, and decided to
call in a crisis management team, which is always on stand-by.
The team - comprised of staff from such departments as media relations,
customer services, and operations - gathered at the emergency
operation center at Greyhound's headquarters in Dallas. "It's a center
for information, and becomes the focus for any incoming information,"
says Lynn Brown, Greyhound VP of corporate communications.
But complete details about what happened were not available as the
crisis team assembled. However, the company decided to halt all bus
services across the country as a precaution. (The crisis team includes
dispatch personnel who were able to contact the depots and hold buses at
their next stops.) Services were shut down by 9am.
Brown made a statement confirming the incident, and provided a 1-800
number for passenger information. All employees were kept up to date
throughout the day and beyond through the company's intranet and a
dedicated phone line.
Coincidentally, Greyhound CEO Craig Lentzsch was in Washington, DC at
the time, preparing for a conference with Secretary of Transportation
Norman Mineta to discuss ground-transportation safety. Richard Mintz,
chairman of Burson-Marsteller's public affairs practice, was also
working on the DoT meeting.
After learning of the incident, Lentzsch and Mintz went to the DoT, and
were briefed by the FBI and state law enforcement officials.
"In their judgment, it was an isolated act of a deranged individual,"
Brown says. Based on that information, Greyhound decided to resume
service at 1pm, and hold a press conference with Lentzsch in Washington
at the same time. That way, he could confirm that the service was up and
running, and at the same time reassure the country that this incident
was not related to the airplane hijackings of September 11. The company
deferred most of the specific questions to law enforcement
Media coverage of the incident was widespread, but quickly faded from
the national scope. Greyhound is satisfied with its response to the
crisis: "I think it went very smoothly given the seriousness of the
incident," Brown says.
Editorial coverage of the decision to halt service was largely, but not
entirely, favorable. During the press conference, and in some media
reports that followed, the CEO was asked if he thought he had
"His response was that when he first got word, the information was
sketchy and he wanted to act prudently," says Burson's Mintz. "He said
he would prefer to be criticized for overreacting than for
under-reacting, and he was comfortable with the position."
On October 24, Greyhound released a new set of safety guidelines for its
buses, including the use of additional security guards and cameras,
temporary restrictions on sitting in the front row of seats, and the
distribution of preprogrammed cell phones to drivers.