Can Ride the Ducks restore its image and business?

Sep 29, 2015, 6:17 PM | Updated: Sep 30, 2015, 5:41 am

Ride the Ducks...

Ride the Ducks crash on Seattle's Aurora Bridge in 2015. (AP)


While the investigation continues into the crash of an amphibious tour vehicle and a charter bus on the Aurora bridge, an uncertain future lies ahead for Seattle’s popular Ride the Ducks.

The company likely faces massive lawsuits, and its fleet remains out of service indefinitely after the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission voted Monday to suspend its operations pending an investigation.

If, or when the company returns to operations, one thing is clear – it faces a steep climb to restore its reputation.

Related: Be suspicious of calls to ban Ride the Ducks, says Jason Rantz

“There’s no reason why they can’t stay in business given their popularity and longevity. But it won’t easy or quick,” said Alex Fryer, vice president of public affairs with Seattle-based The Fearey Group.

Fryer, a specialist in crisis communications, points to other companies that have overcome deadly incidents such as Jack in the Box and Alaska Air.

The first thing is to make sure the victims’ families and all those affected by the crash are taken care of.

“You do this behind the scenes. Hotel, airfare, anything else you can do for them. But you do that because it’s the right thing to do, not for PR purposes,” Fryer said.

Publicly, he says a clear and open line of communications with employees is critical, providing as much information as possible. That can include the status of the investigation, potential litigation and other issues.

“It’s important you keep a clear line of communications so they know what’s going on internally,” Fryer said.

Keeping the public informed is also an extremely important step as the company tries to rebuild its brand – especially in light of reports Ride The Ducks failed to make repairs to the vehicle involved in the crash despite an order from the company that modifies the World War II-era vehicles.

“Most important is that you’re transparent going forward and that you can you can show the community all you’ve done in terms of maintenance or training of the drivers, to show that you took safety seriously, that safety was a major priority for the company,” Fryer said.

But Fryer says a company in crisis can’t rely on the media, regulatory agencies or others to tell its story. It’s critical Ride the Ducks put out all the information it can through its own channels, such as its website or social media.

“And you do that because it’s the right thing to do and then you let the chips fall where they may. You can show people that safety was a priority, that it was top of mind in all its daily operations,” he said.

Related: State rep says there’s room for Ride the Ducks in Seattle

Brian Tracey, owner and CEO of Ride the Ducks Seattle, has repeatedly insisted safety is the company’s number one priority. And he voluntarily pulled the fleet off the road immediately following the crash.

While some have proposed banning the Ducks from traveling on the Aurora Bridge when they return to service as expected, Fryer says the smartest thing to do would be to never operate them on the span again, out of sensitivity for both the victims of the crash and to avoid stirring memories of the accident for every passenger on board.

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Can Ride the Ducks restore its image and business?