Public relations is key when managing a crisis, no matter the size of organization or how strange the circumstances may be. A recent incident at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati sheds light on how public relations can be used to handle even the most bizarre situations.
Army Sgt. Kimberly Walker was murdered this past Valentine’s Day by her boyfriend in a Colorado hotel. Recently, a six-foot, 7,000-pound SpongeBob SquarePants headstone was placed at Spring Grove Cemetery in her memory. SpongeBob was her favorite cartoon character. Before the purchase of the headstone, Walker’s family confirmed the placement with the cemetery. The headstone was placed Oct. 10 in honor of Walker and her surviving sister Kara. On Oct. 11, the headstone was removed.
News about the headstone and its removal quickly went viral, causing Spring Grove Cemetery to respond to the situation. The Walker family and others questioned why the headstone was removed despite the cemetery’s approval.
Spring Grove Cemetery took action by speaking to the media. In an interview, President Grey Freytag told USA Today that Spring Grove Cemetery, “maintains a historic appearance, and the employee who approved the headstone made a mistake in judgment.” The “historic appearance” of the cemetery entails traditional, stately gravestones. CNN also reported that cemetery officials would meet with the family to negotiate a similar memorial for Walker. Freytag informed the media that the cemetery is prepared to reimburse the Walker family $26,000 for the original headstone in addition to paying for a new one.
Spring Grove Cemetery has handled this incident well. The situation illustrates the importance of public relations in maintaining a good reputation. Cemetery officials were transparent with the media and the Walker family after the removal of the headstone, establishing trust and preventing the situation from getting any worse.
By Analita Voss
PRecisely PR is the blog of the Illinois State University Chapter of the PRSSA. We write about Chapter events, the public relations industry, member profiles, and more.