July 6, 2015
Walmart vs. Tracy Morgan
In an interview with NBC’s Today Show, superstar comedian Tracy Morgan thanked Walmart, the company whose truck slammed into his vehicle more than a year ago, severely injuring Morgan and killing his friend, James McNair. The horrible accident made national news, and many people were surprised by Morgan’s response.
Morgan said Walmart “stepped up to the plate in a tremendous way,” indicating they never sought to dodge or shift responsibility for the tragedy that claimed the life of Morgan’s good friend, McNair. Further still, Morgan said the company had taken full responsibility for the accident and had already settled with McNair’s family.
“I’m just happy they looked out for Jimmy Mac’s family. He can rest in peace now,” Morgan said. During the interview, Morgan made one concession that seemed to indicate the issue could have gone a very different way. “In the beginning there was a misunderstanding, but that got squared away. They came through in the clutch.”
Many pundits declared that the “misunderstanding” was likely an attempt by Walmart or their attorneys to sidestep blame or culpability in the accident, though neither Morgan nor Walmart will confirm or deny this. In fact, much the opposite. According to Morgan, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and his attorney Benedict Morelli spoke directly to Morgan to offer their personal apologies and condolences.
Some critics are speculating that, had the victims in this case not included at least one national marquee name, the “misunderstanding” may have continued to court. That sort of cross-talk might make for some entertaining afternoon drive radio, but it’s not germane to the PR lesson at hand.
The lesson here is that message control is key to an optimal outcome. Both Morgan and Walmart wanted this situation to be dealt with quickly and fairly. Walmart wanted its name out of the headlines, and Morgan wanted his friend’s family cared for in the best – and quickest – way possible. Any ugliness in the press would have hamstrung both of those goals, divergent as they might seem.
Another integral factor to the quick resolution? The facts of the case, as presented, were absolutely damning for Walmart. The at-fault driver had reportedly been traveling more than 20 mph over the posted limit … and he had been up for at least 24 hours. The more those numbers were repeated in the media, the more speculation, accusation and confrontation would damage Walmart’s PR brand.
Understanding all of these dynamics before a PR crisis explodes can go a long way toward a Best Possible Outcome.