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I-Spy #4: Lincoln Center Presents: Bed Bugs– Live!

October 14, 2010

Crisis:  Bed bugs found in the dressing rooms of NYC’s Lincoln Center. 

Principle(s): “Remain calm, patient and good-humored” and “Tell the truth.”

Finding good seats and a parking spot aren’t the only things you have to worry about when planning your next trip to the Lincoln Center.  A recent discovery in the dressing rooms of the prestigious NYC landmark yielded another stressor we can add to the list: bed bugs. 

A recent email from the theater’s managing director, Mark Heiser, to the New York Observer confirmed an isolated outbreak of bedbugs in the dressing rooms at the David H. Koch Theater. The official announcement regarding the bed bugs was made the morning after the New York City Ballet hosted its celeb-packed black-tie fall gala at the theater, which was attended by stars such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal. 

In his email to the Observer, Heiser wrote that he encouraged the public to “please understand that this is an epidemic,” and that “any signs of bedbug activity should not be considered a sign of an untidy house.”  He also noted that bug-sniffing dogs had been brought in to locate the tiny pests and exterminators had been called to deal with the vermin accordingly. 

Aside from Heiser’s email to the Observer, there has been no official statement made on behalf of the Lincoln Center regarding the bed bug incident.

This PR crisis serves as a good example for two Page principles:remain calm, patient and good-humored” and “tell the truth.”  Rather than waiting for the media to discover the story via theater employee gossip or muckraking efforts, the Lincoln Center got ahead of the story and came clean from the beginning.  In his correspondence with the media, Heiser defused the impending public disgust by explaining that the outbreak was far away from any public areas, the issue was quickly dealt with and by also reminding them that his opera house wasn’t the only place in NYC affected by the bed bug epidemic. 

Although some may believe that by not issuing an official news release the theater was trying to merely sweep the issue under the rug, I would argue that it was a wise decision.  By simply emailing a prominent media source, the Lincoln Theater was able to get the information out without making it a big deal.  Had they sent out a news release documenting every detail of the incident, they would have drawn unwanted attention to themselves by giving the media more information to latch onto. 

By telling the truth and remaining calm, the Lincoln Center sailed through its crisis without any long-lasting damage to its image and public relations.

Question for the Class: Did the Lincoln Center do enough to inform the public on their bed bug  outbreak?  Should they have issued a news release? Why or why not?

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