Airlines must be prepared when it comes to crisis communications says Barbara Kracht, consultancy partner at BHK Crisis Communications.
Air travel is the safest means of transportation and accidents are extremely rare. But because an accident generates huge worldwide coverage and interest, its impact on a company’s reputation is enormous.
Responding correctly in a crisis includes the way an airline addresses the consequences from a logistical and human point of view, but also—and this is crucial—the way it communicates about it.
Having an Emergency Response Plan—provided it is properly executed—goes a long way towards protecting a company’s reputation and ensuring its survival, whatever the causes of the accident. But there are no formal requirements with regards to crisis communications. This very important part in handling the crisis is left to the discretion of the company.
If unprepared, an airline’s communications will potentially be completely drowned by the media tsunami that is going to fall upon them and the whole company.
Many may believe that, as an easy solution, crisis communications can be subcontracted to an external agency. This approach reflects a total ignorance of reality. The public, the media, and all stakeholders will require an immediate and continuous response from the company itself.
An external agency can certainly provide long-term support, but is in no way a substitute for direct communication from the company. Also, it will most certainly not be readily available, nor even present at the required location(s) from the beginning. The fact is that the airline has to swim alone for at least the first 24 hours.
Airlines need to be prepared to swiftly and continuously feed social media channels. Twitter, Facebook, and the like have revolutionised global communications. The golden hour organizations used to have, until the first press statement was to be released, is long gone! An airline must be present on Twitter—which has become the prime communication channel from which the conventional media take their quotations—as soon as it hears about the first rumours. Then it has to continue to regularly update the various social media communication channels if it is not to be overtaken by all the other commentators. And airlines need to know how to do all this in advance.
The CEO and other executives will also need to address the media at several locations, above all if the accident occurs far away from the home base. Their messages need to be well prepared and coordinated. And so does their appearance, as the circumstances are going to be totally different from a normal press conference.
And it is vital that communications with all other stakeholders, including employees, is not neglected. All this communication needs to be thoroughly coordinated.
At a time when budgets are tight, it is not an obvious business case to invest in what is considered a remote risk. Yet, when the improbable strikes, a company’s survival will greatly depend on its level of preparedness to face and manage the post-accident crisis in communications terms.
Full crisis communications preparedness is simply a must in today’s highly interconnected cyber-world for the airline to manage and survive the risks resulting from an accident crisis. It is an indispensable investment.
IATA’s Crisis Communications and Social Media Guidelines are available free on www.iata.org
For airlines looking for assistance with their crisis communications planning, IATA Crisis Communications Services can help with solutions best adapted to the needs of each company. For more information please contact Kate Markhivda: firstname.lastname@example.org
(This article was first published in Airlines International) www.airlines.iata.org