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Can Dreamworld repair its reputation? We say yes, conditionally. This week saw the company, not individuals, charged over the tragedy that killed four people. Liam Cox and Peter Wilkinson discuss.

Video Transcript

Liam Cox:

Four people dead, $4.5 million in potential fines. I know [Leisure’s 00:00:04] reputation is in tatters for the 2016 Dreamworld tragedy, Peter Wilkinson, can they repair their reputation?

Peter Wilkinson:

Yes, they can. But I think it needs to start with a serious fine or jail time for some of the people responsible. So that at least for the families of the four people who died there’s some feeling of closure. And so that the public can see, I think the public deserves to feel that there’s been a person responsible who’s been punished. I think fining the company wasn’t really enough.

Liam Cox:

Where do they go from here? It’s clearly much more than having an exciting theme park. They need to rebuild trust and raise the bar on all safety standards.

Peter Wilkinson:

Yes, you’re right. So, the temptation for a board or a management is going to say, “We need to get another exciting theme park going as quickly as possible,” but that actually isn’t the objective. It can’t be the objective in this situation. At least not from a communications point of view.

The objectives have to be how do we build trust in a theme park? And how is it going to be financially viable? Those are the two big decisions. And the starting point is for the new board and management, everything has to be anchored in the right ethics. And it’s the ethics around safety and about the marriage of excitement, affordability and safety. Because each of those three are actually competing.

To get more excitement kids want risk and with more excitement comes less profitability. So, there’s these always these three competing objectives and the difficulty that the management and board will have here is there’ll be a tug of war between doing what is right ethically and what the lawyers and some directors want.

Liam Cox:

In terms of branding. For many years, Dreamworld was a place of great excitement, great fun for children and families all over the country. Now you think Dreamworld you think horror, tragedy, and death. Did they need to change their name?

Peter Wilkinson:

The answer again is yes. They do need to change their name. This isn’t putting lipstick on a pig. It’s not spun by doing a name’s change and you would never do a name change on some things. You would never name change the Statue of Liberty. You would never name change Auschwitz. Those names have very, very strong meanings around the world. But with Dreamworld, once the joint is fixed, once the directors have really nailed the safety issues and got the theme park back to where it should be, then a name change would be deliberate. Would be a good thing to do, because the name is going to always be associated with the four deaths. Regardless of what the board does. Regardless of how safe the new theme park is.

Liam Cox:

We talked to companies often about being crisis ready. It appears that Dreamworld was horribly unprepared for a crisis.

Peter Wilkinson:

Yeah. There are key learnings from what went wrong and what has to go right. And they really do have to cover off so that people can see that there’s no risk of repeating the past. So, for instance, no accidents is a no brainer. They have to have messaging along the lines of this joint is going to be as safe as Qantas. So really, really safe because the slightest accident will quickly demolish or further demolish their reputation.

But there are other things that are really important. For instance, they’ve had bad spokespeople in the past. That was part of the problem. So, a real point of difference would be to have a really good spokesperson to help through the little tricky things that always go wrong with big customer-focused facilities like this.

The next thing is the staff on-site should ooze safety. It should be so much a part of their mantra and not overtly in the sense of really restricting the excitement of a theme park. But you could have, for instance, safety officers who are just discreetly there and not in police uniforms, in security uniforms, but in soft pastel colours. So, they sort of merge with the fun, but there’s a clear presence.

Another thing that’s going to be really important is obviously they’re going to have to advertise their pants off. But they need good journalists, editorial media as well because journalists provide an independent take on what’s being seen. Which is quite different from advertising?

And finally, they’re going to have to be really sharp on their social media. The social media has the potential to be really toxic with a park-like this. The slightest thing, things like rubbish or even a problem at the entrance with the ticketing and stuff like that, people can do a lot of damage just by tweeting, “Here we go again. Just like the old Dreamworld. Nothing’s changed,” and it’s very hard to fight back from that unless you’re very much on the front foot with social media.

Liam Cox:

Great advice, it will be fascinating to watch all of this unfold over the coming years and to see whether Dreamworld and Ardent Leisure can indeed repair their reputation. Peter Wilkinson, thank you.

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