Doncha hate it when you accidentally fire a cannon ball through someone’s house? The TV show “MythBusters” did that on Tuesday while taping their program for Discovery Channel.
If you missed the details of the science experiment gone wrong the video is below:
The projectile escaped a testing ground, flew through a nearby neighborhood, ricocheted around one home, bounced off another and ended up in a parked mini-van.
The next day the show’s hosts showed up on scene, hats in hand, to express regret to the folks whose homes were unintended targets.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, after assuring one family that the program “would never again blast a home with heavy ordnance” the hosts, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage said the incident was “the worst thing that had happened during thousands of experiments over eight years on the Discovery Channel show.”
It appears that despite their near miss, the MythBuster crew did a good job of damage control. They promised that they would not air footage shot of the errant cannon blast (avoiding the possible perception that they might capitalize on their mistake.)
More importantly, they said and did the right things. They met with the affected families privately and then met with the press.
The Chronicle quotes the apologetic Savage saying: “Honestly, the feeling of embarrassment is not something we’re indulging in right now. We feel for the families and the people affected by this.” The hosts agreed to pose for pictures with neighbors saying “You’ve forgive us for not smiling. It’s not smiling time.”
Give the MythBuster crew credit for decent aim with their response. They could have stayed away for fear of saying something that might be used against them in a future lawsuit. There WILL be lawsuits. But the hosts were on target with appropriate expressions of concern.
There are PR lessons in this for all institutions. Sure, you are unlikely to fire a cannon into unsuspecting neighborhoods — but unexpected things happen all the time. The military even has an acronym for one subset of the problem: TFOA, which stands for “Things Falling Off Aircraft.”
Despite your best efforts, dramatic unforeseen things can happen to any organization. These events can blow a hole in your public persona. How you react to the incident will impact whether the damage is fatal to your reputation.