This year's social media panic event has been sponsored by Norfolk Southern! You’ve definitely seen the posts about their train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Long story short, many of the cars involved were carrying hazardous materials. Due to the possibility of an explosion, authorities chose to breach five tankers filled with vinyl chloride, sending hydrogen chloride and phosgene, a toxic gas, into the air. What’s the long-term impact of this? We don’t know. We just know that there are chemicals floating in the Ohio River that may or may not harm East Palestine residents.
This has been the biggest disinformation sh*tstorm in a while. You’d think that Exxon’s famous PR scandal that basically screamed “this is what NOT to do,” would’ve taught companies a lesson. Why do these big companies hide when their problems blow up (no pun intended)?!
Funny enough, Norfolk Southern was throwing money toward PR in 2018 with videos like this. This was all part of their ad campaign called “Reimagine Possible.” According to their PR agency at the time, RP3, the goal was to shape the opinion of “policy makers and opinion elites, whose perceptions are vital to Norfolk Southern’s success, tend to support companies whose leadership helps spur innovation and growth.”
There’s even another ad called, “Norfolk Southern: What's Your Function?” which played to the beat of School House Rock’s Conjunction Junction. Youtube User @gio160 recently commented, “Norfolk southern voted HOTTEST railroad in Ohio!” with user @AlexsTrainProductions425 saying, “This comment hit me with laughter harder than that freight train hitting the ground!”
Yikes… You could say that campaign didn’t age well.
Norfolk Southern made the age-old PR mistake of waiting too long to release anything cohesive. Instead, there was a rollout of different scientists speaking on social media. Contradicting facts being released on social media? What could go wrong??
Most recently, the chief executive of Norfolk Southern, Alan Shaw, released a statement. “ We have a responsibility to make it right, and we’re committed to do what it takes to help East Palestine recover and thrive. We are also committed to working with public officials and the industry to make railroads safer. Every accident must be an opportunity to learn what can be done better. “
They also announced a six-point safety plan, which includes initiatives that will provide enhanced safety measures.
Do you think this is all a little too late? We’ve seen some pretty messy PR blunders that have cleaned up their act. Let us know what you think.