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British Airways Crisis Communications Fail

Crisis communications fail. The day British Airways nearly lost its reputation as the World’s Favourite Airline

  • Can you afford to make the same crisis communications mistakes in your PR strategy?

  • How much is your reputation worth?

  • Do you regularly, thoroughly test your crisis plan?

This seven-point  plan could have saved the airline millions in compensation and lost credibility.

BA’s catastrophic computer crash led to hundreds of cancelled and delayed flights.

Thousands of passengers were stranded. Holidays ruined. And families in tears.

But it was the airline’s shambolic PR response, rather than the IT meltdown itself, that threatens its reputation.

BA suffered communications breakdown on an epic scale.

Airline staff on the ground knew no more than the passengers they were trying to help.


“There are no managers here. We don’t know what we are doing.”

– BA ground crew

The seven-point crisis communications plan

Restless Communications develops real-time scenarios to stress test and improve your crisis strategy.

We move your plans from the whiteboard into a real world environment.

And we help organisations plan for situations just like this: where an operational issue becomes a communications crisis.

This is typically because information-flow within organisations breaks down.

When automated systems (e.g. texting customers or guests, or updating centralised systems) fall over.

When the queue of customers get longer and longer.

But the volume of accurate customer-facing information gets shorter and shorter.

We can help you identify the weak points. Weed out what doesn’t work. And build on everything you do well to develop an effective crisis communications plan.

We have helped brands deal with natural disasters, terrorist incidents and PR nightmares.

Find out if you are crisis-ready, by running through this seven-point checklist

1) Can you distribute accurate information around your organisation, and then out to customers? When the normal channels you rely on completely fail

2) Do you prioritise information to your social media and digital comms teams during a crisis? Speedy flow of info will take pressure off call centre and front-line staff.

3) Can you immediately scale-up your social customer service team, as demand on their time spikes?

4) Does your social media team have the tools they need to listen and engage? At scale. And at the busiest times of the year?

5) When systems are down, can you co-ordinate your teams on the ground?

6) Can you quickly identify customers in distress – and offer them meaningful help?

7) Are all your staff trained in crisis protocols?

If the answers to all these questions is “yes”, you are on your way to having a foolproof crisis communications plan.

But there are always things you can do better.

Call us now to find out more.

Our team has decades of frontline experience in crisis comms, journalism, broadcast and social media.

We have worked with brands like Eurostar, Starwood Hotels, Express Newspapers, and TfL.

Helping them to prepare and put in place crisis procedures and plans.

Las Vegas Airport and British Airways plane on fire – a lesson in crisis communications and social media

The response from Las Vegas Airport (McCarran, @lasairport on Twitter) to the fire on yesterday’s British Airways flight, is an excellent example of crisis communications and social media best practice.

On a practical basis both Las Vegas Airport, and the British Airways teams dealt with the issue – a reported engine fire – extremely quickly.

They received their first call at 4.13, flames were spotted at 4.14, and their response was immediately underway. The fire was out, and all the passengers were evacuated by 4.18. Amazingly fast.

But, as you might expect from a crisis communications specialist, I’m also very interested in how all the parties dealt with comms around the issue. Particularly as I work a lot in the travel, hotels and hospitality sectors.

By my reckoning, @bradley_hampton tweeted a picture of the fire at 4.17 (but bear in mind he may have taken the picture a while beforehand), and @K8DeMaria also tweeted a similar image, flagging that it was a #britishairways plane at around the same time. And @reggiefaer posted a similar pic on Instagram.

  This plane just exploded on the runway here in #lasvegas holy fuck there’s people running everywhere now.   A photo posted by Reggie Bügmüncher (@reggiefaer) on

Once again we see user-generated content setting the pace for crisis communications responses.

It’s highly likely that the PR and communications team for British Airways and Las Vegas Airport were alerted to the fire via social channels at the same time – or maybe even before – their operations colleagues told them. And then their well-rehearsed crisis drills were put into action. Brilliantly.

At 4.22 @LASairport started tweeting about the incident – confirming there was an incident, stating the (limited) facts available (but surprisingly without tagging British Airways – perhaps because the official account doesn’t pop up quickly in search because of the annoying underscore).

By this stage their phone was probably ringing off the hook with media requests.

Crisis communications and social media – a Twitter first strategy

So, in just one tweet, Las Vegas Airport showed how much the practice of dealing with crisis communications has changed dramatically over the last few years:

And that Twitter feed then became the definitive source of accurate airport information, as well as signposting other places for information (including giving out media contact details for British Airways).

Less than four hours after the incident, the Airport had a press conference, thanking the emergency teams, airline crew and passengers.

Also by this stage, British Airways were very much in control of all the communications with the passengers and the media. But, presumably because the incident was over relatively quickly, the first social media statement from British Airways was fairly ‘vanilla’, at just after 8am UK time

And the link itself summarised all the facts available, as well as gave contact numbers for passengers’ families. [UPDATE – British Airways have been signposting even more information on Twitter during the day] Als0 by this time, Boeing had gone into crisis response mode, tweeting their two fairly standard responses:

followed by

Clearly a fire on board a plane preparing to take off is a very serious issue. But on this occasion the safety drills, and the crisis communications rehearsals of all the stakeholders involved proved to be extremely effective.

Las Vegas Airport, their support services on the ground, and British Airways deserve huge amounts of credit for the way they handled this crisis, and the communications around it.

Twitter and Freedom of Speech - Censor or saviour

Twitter becomes a censoring media owner, not a passive media channel

Twitter the very clever censor

Twitter is no longer a passive social media channel. It is trying to balance freedom of speech with freedom to not be threatened. And it should be applauded.

Just as Post Offices worldwide have never been responsible for the contents of the envelopes they deliver, telecoms companies have never been responsible for the contents of conversation which travelled on their networks.

But traditional media owners across TV, radio, papers and magazines have always taken editorial decisions with authority, and a degree of transparency.

(I also remember the staff in Boots who would perform a very ‘English’ approach to censorship when you collected films which you’d dropped off to be developed — but that’s another story)

Social media channels, which once pleaded that they were simply a ‘delivery mechanism’ like BT and the Royal Mail have woken up to their responsibilities. Even if they’re not responsible for the contents of what people say, they are responsible for potential offence caused to the recipient.

Twitter’s new policy changes were announced yesterday. Yes, they have reacted slower than Facebook and Tumblr, but they should be applauded for at last taking action to pre-vet messages to “identify suspected abusive Tweets and limit their reach”.

Even more importantly, Twitter also seem to have successfully walked the very narrow ‘freedom of speech’ tightrope. A line in their blog post announcing the new policy is obvious, but is also extremely cleverly worded:

“This feature does not take into account whether the content posted or followed by a user is controversial or unpopular.”

This one line — which must be judged on its success in due course — cleverly illustrates that they’re not taking any editorial judgements about the content of any tweets. But their pre-vetting algorithm looks for correlation between those tweets and any others which it strongly suspects of breaking its new improved policies on abuse.

Whether they’re good enough to stop the vicious trolling of Caroline Priado-Perez, Jack Monroe or even Katie Hopkins remains to be seen.

But it’s a start. A very good start.

We’re now in an era when people are increasingly likely to get most of their news/information about how the world actually works via the filter of social media channels rather than the editorial judgements of proprietors and newsrooms. The old model clearly had its faults, but those faults could at least be identified and held to account.

Facebook’s recent tinkering with newsfeeds to test their impact on users’ happiness was a problem in its own right. It demonstrated Facebook’s willingness to actively change the content people received, on the basis of someone at Facebook’s decision. It highlighted the potential influence that algorithms — or rather the people who create those algorithms — can have on skewing political and social discourse.

The fact that Twitter’s algorithms won’t take into account whether anything is unpopular or controversial, should therefore be applauded.

“With great power comes great responsibility” has been attributed over the years to an 18th Century British Prime Minister, Voltaire and even Spiderman author Stan Lee. But nowhere is is more relevant than in the policy teams of today’s Social Media companies.

That responsibility is going to be increasingly tested in the years to come.

[for a more in-depth look at the relationships between news, responsibilities and social media, check out Emily Bell’s Cudlipp lecture from earlier this year]


social media evaluation - it's very hard

Quality Seconds > Pointless Eyeballs

A few years ago I started touting around an idea about how to cross-compare the value of PR coverage on print, TV, radio and online. Social media evaluation was a relatively new phenomena.

Every PR agency worth its salt was wrestling with the same thing. How to demonstrate to clients the value of earned media coverage, particularly the rapidly growing area of online, compared to other channels.

The route I started going down was to develop a simple formula which would apply across all channels.

Cost per unique engagement minute

i.e. How much does it cost to get one person to spend one minute of ‘quality’ time registering our content or our messages, across any/all channels

Bear in mind, this was simply to compare the volume and visibility of coverage. This was before we’d quite got to grips with the new concepts of engagement and then advocacy which online comms offered.

It never quite took off — probably because at the time we simply didn’t have the tools/time to implement or measure it properly. But also too many clients insisted on a (shoot me please!) AVE comparison — which also highlighted their naivity about how online advertising was purchased — but that’s another story.

Many of the finest PR (and now social/digital) professionals were wrestling with the same thing. People like Philip Sheldrake and Stephen Waddingtonin the UK, and Katie Paine in the US, as well as AMEC and plenty of people involved in the Barcelona Principles.

It was and still is very hard to decide what to measure, and then what to compare it against. Particularly when you’re trying to evaluate which channel is the most cost-effective channel to use.

So I’m pleased to see people like Ev at Medium again drawing attention to the futility of the simplistic comparison metrics which are still industry-standard, and proposing something similar(ish) — TTR total time reading in Medium’s case — to replace them.

In his recent Medium post Ev defends his quote about ‘not giving a shit’ that Instagram has more unique users than Twitter, on the basis that both channels/media perform very different functions, so simply to compare one metric (perhaps the easiest metric to grab hold of — number of uniques) is to dramatically miss the point of the purpose and value that each channel brings to its users.

He’s right.

I got on a similar high-horse when a large chunk of the social media bubble went crazy for Klout. Again, a one-dimensional metric which was bound to fail in a multi-dimensional world.

Are there better ways of comparing apples and pears? I think there are. Media buyers have tried various methods to roll together TVRs, uniques, pre-roll views, eye-tracking and God knows what else, but at the end of the day there isn’t yet a way to accurately measure and compare volume and influence of any media coverage, or channel.

And there won’t be.

It’s impossible.

Influence and relevance will always be subjective.

Just ask yourself, what is the most influential newspaper? It depends entirely on where you live, what you’re interested in and what factors actually create the change you really want to measure.

So trying to compare Twitter and Instagram purely on the basis of numbers of users is similarly destined to fail. Different people use different channels for different reasons.

If advertisers want to dig a bit deeper and can effectively segregate different audiences then a more rigorous comparison might be a return to my old thinking of cost per unique engagement minute, or in Medium’s case, the TTR — total time reading.

That could at least demonstrate how many people spend how much time looking at your content, so people can draw some sort of ROI and value against it. At its most basic level, to decide whether it’s worth spending money on paying people to create it.

As more brands and SMEs become publishers, I’m convinced these metrics will become easier to measure, and can provide a benchmark against which to see what content is ‘working’. They could also possibly provide a benchmark aross different channels too.

But, even this metric misses out on capturing what people actually do as a result of exposure to the content. Engagement and advocacy is the next step on.

And the digital world is better placed to deliver tangible ‘results’ metrics than TV, and is light years ahead of print or outdoor advertising.

But until then, we’ll have to live with journalists, clients and even colleagues over-simplifing the metrics available to make whatever point they want to make.

And don’t even get me started on last-click attribution…

[This was first posted on]

Nissans kills its corporate reputation with the launch of Datsun Go in India

Why Nissan’s corporate reputation deserves to crash and burn

With great power comes great responsibility.

But not if you’re an international car giant, apparently. Irrespective of your existing corporate reputation.

Nissan’s Datsun Go car gets Zero Points on the GlobalNCAP crash test scale.

It’s a brand new car. Recently launched in India. This is madness.

The car is so unsafe, that even if they fitted airbags, it would make no difference to the test results, because the car’s body is so flimsy.

There is no way Nissan would even dream of launching it in Europe, so why is it OK to launch it in India?


Does Nissan really value Indian lives less than European lives?

Because that’s what it looks like.


GlobalNCAP, the internationally-recognised car testing body are urging Nissan to withdraw the car from sale in India until it’s been improved.

Nissan should do so, and should also change their approval processes in future. A car this unsafe should never be approved for production. Even though it may well pass local safety regulations, car manufactures have a duty to be better than the statutory minimum. Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s Chairman and CEO has a responsibility to act. And act quickly.

Thanks to GlobalNCAP’s campaigning stance, as part of the UN Decade of Action on Road Safety, Nissan’s global corporate reputation is at stake. But more important than that, so are thousands of Indian lives.

This is a classic example of crisis communications in action. The right course of action for Nissan is to hold their hands up and correct the corporate mistake. And then communicate what they’ve done. They can’t spin themselves out of this one.

[first published on]

Crisis communications image via Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

Crisis Communications oversimplified by The Economist. Hopefully

The world of crisis communications is undoubtedly far more complicated than the Economist’s review of Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal (by Eric Dezenhall)would have you believe.

In fact, I hope the the book is far more complicated than the review suggests.

I’ve just ordered* Eric Dezenhall’s latest book. He’s clearly a very well respected crisis communications expert, but for the Economist to take out of the book that best advice for CEOs is to ‘restrict the view into their glass houses’ or to ‘cover the camera’ on their mobile phones, or to ‘avoid any strongly worded statements’, suggests either that the book is more complex than the reviewer suggests. Or that it’s a much shallower book than I’d hope.

Yes, reputations can be influenced by CEO’s ‘slips of the tongue’ or ‘reply all emails’, but I’d argue that whether we like it or not, we’re living in an age of increasingly transparent corporate governance. Neither comms teams nor CEOs can rely on bad news not getting out any more.

When is crisis communications typically required?

In a social media age, there are at least two different sorts of crises that businesses need to prepare for.

A ‘communications’ crises can be generated by anything that anyone who is communicating on behalf the company says or does. Or doesn’t.

This could be an ill-advised comment by a CEO who, in all honesty, should know better. But it could just as easily come from a call-centre employee or an automated process. It it’s big enough (e.g. The boss of John Lewis apparently criticising an entire country that he’s trying to establish a business in) then it may well have longer-term/financial implications, but in many cases, although this sort of thing might blow up into a national news story for a day or two, if the company already has a decent-enough reputation, it will soon die down.

But ‘operational’ crises are caused by how a company behaves, what it does or doesn’t do and can then be compounded by what it does or doesn’t say.

These sorts of things can be impacted positively or negatively by a company’s existing reputation within ‘the chattering classes’, in particular the degree of perceived transparency and willingness to engage to date, but major operational problems, like Exxon Valdez (from 1989?!) quoted in the review, or the significant crisis communications programmes at the BBC and Eurostar which I’ve worked on, amongst others, will be considered a crisis by any definition.

The Economist says that Eric Dezenhall’s advice to businesses and CEOs who want to avoid a crisis is to be brilliant at your job. No surprise there.

But from my experience in crisis communications and PR, being brilliant does not involve ‘covering up cameras’ or avoiding the ‘reply all’ on email, or avoiding any strongly worded message from the CEO. It certainly does not involve dismissing CSR campaigns.

In fact I’d go as far as to say if you need to muzzle your CEO on email or social media, you’ve simply got the wrong CEO.

*If having read the book, I think the Economist has got the wrong end of the stick, then of course I’ll update this post.

Social Media Playbooks

11 common themes of the best social media playbooks

We’re often asked to put together social media strategies for our clients, and then to make them as practical as possible – to develop a social media playbook (although I hate that term)

So what does a good social media playbook involve?

Obviously it varies dependent on individual clients and objectives, but in practice there are a number of themes which are fairly consistent. I thought it would be useful to share the 11 common themes of the best social media playbooks, based on our own methodology and approach.

  1. Define objectives (based on business objectives, but with more than a nod to communications objectives)
  2. Identify target audiences
  3. Audit existing channels against objectives and target audiences
  4. Refresh or write social media policy
  5. Develop and agree content themes, and % of created v curated content
  6. Define roles, responsibilities and set up teams/tools/processes for listening, content-creation, engagement, escalation and reporting
  7. Develop tone of voice guidelines, and copywriting/technical guidelines for each of your social channels
  8. Create a process to produce and regularly update and approve content plans
  9. Establish a triage and response methodology, including classification of content and individuals who engage with you, workflows, response timelines and approval processes, and associated KPIs
  10. Create an evaluation methodology which recognises the right mix of ROI and other business objectives
  11. Refresh escalation and crisis communications processes (or start them from scratch)

This is clearly just a framework, but I figured it’s worth sharing, particularly as I think it sits very comfortably with social media playbooks from the likes of GDS, Cisco, and Salesforce [registration required].

I’m sure there are other really good playbooks around – if I should link to any more, let me know.


Privacy and search engines. 1984 was only half right

If you don’t buy the product, you are the product. Or worse. Everything you do is being watched.

My mac alerted me to a new Safari update, today. Nothing too surprising about that. Normally I just wouldn’t care. I don’t use Safari. I use Chrome. But this time I sat up and took notice.

Because this time, that update includes the option to use DuckDuckGo.

Duckduckgo — The search engine that doesn’t track you. A superior search experience with smarter answers, less clutter and real privacy.

Which got me thinking.

Apple really are squaring up against Google. And China.

Both of those take balls of steel. But more of that, they take principles too. Principles of privacy which, at first glance, don’t tally with the pursuit of profit, either.

I don’t want to get too carried away, but we’re at the cusp of an incredibly important time for defining our own individual values, and indeed the values of the world we’re living in, and want our kids to live in.

What is the right balance of privacy v profit in our society?

We all know by now that Tim Cook wrote an open letter about the importance of privacy recently. But it turns out — he really does mean it.

“Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.”

Apple are taking a strong position either to not share, or to not be able to share personal information with third parties including Governments.

Compare that to Google, Facebook, and even Amazon. Where every time you interact with them anywhere (online and increasingly offline) you give them permission to store information about you to help advertisers spend less to get you to buy more in future.

That’s quite some difference in corporate positioning.

In fact it’s fundamental.

Maybe that positioning is how Apple will justify such higher prices for their products and services in future. (Amazon Fire phone for 99cents anyone? Hmmm, I wonder why? Free mobile phone operating system for handset manufacturers anyone? Hmm, I wonder why?), but those principles are also proving costly to them.

Apple still haven’t launched their biggest new product (iPhone6) in the world’s biggest market (China), probably because they can’t/won’t help the Chinese Government decrypt content on IOS8.

The smart money is that China won’t licence them because of that very reason. Yesterday China also blocked duckduckgo.

Some coincidence.

I so want Apple’s privacy statement to kickstart a discussion about how the tech giants (Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook) can and should use our data.

I’m not anti-Google. And I’m not an Apple apologist either. I let Google sniff my gmail accounts all day long. I’m writing this in Chrome. With hindsight, the iCloud hacks were schoolboy error stuff. Apple should have done better.

But there’s some massive principles at stake here. Principles which, as a society we need to discuss and agree to, rather than sleepwalk into acceptance that Google, Facebook, Amazon etc know way more about us than we’d ever want any Government to know.

And I’d love to know how to make that happen.

(originally published on

Social media mass personalisation

My name, your drink. Mass personalisation? Or a social gimmick?

Coca-Cola were sampling exercise in Holborn recently. Free drinks. What’s not to like? In fact, free drinks with your name on. Even better.

This year’s campaign features four times more names than previously, including mate, bestie, mum and dad. Nice touches.

The return of the campaign was apparently prompted by a massive rise in sales last time round. Not surprised really. Not only will people search out the drink with their name on it, but also the social sharing which the campaign generated meant that the brand was regularly front of mind amongst its target audience. Very clever.

Of course Coca-Cola aren’t the first company to offer personalisation, typically via social channels, for their consumers.

But they do it very well.

Starbucks personalises mass-produced drinks in a very different way, but even so, this attempt at personalisation (typically involving a mis-spelt name) also generates heaps of social sharing.

We’re living in an era where people crave unique experiences, and one in which mass production can accommodate huge variations on a theme.

But as well as that, we’re living in the age of the selfie. And there’s nothing like the chance of free publicity to kickstart innovation.