Tag crisis communications

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.

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.

Hotel Crisis Communications required

Power to the people! Crisis communications required

The power of the boycott, or a campaign by users (or non-users) is not a new phenomenon.

But social media means that when an issue gains sympathy, particularly amongst an influential group who are well connected and can make a very simple argument work in 140 characters or less, businesses need to sit up, take note, and dust down the crisis communications plans.

The campaign against the Beverly Hills Hotel is a case in point.

LGBT pressure groups have for a long time highlighted the Sultan of Brunei’s (the hotel’s ultimate owner) harsh penal code. In Brunei, gay sex could be punishable by death – as could adultery).

But it was one tweet by Ellen de Generes, which kick-started a celebrity-led, media-followed campaign to highlight the issues

Boycott Beverly Hills HotelSince picked up by a whole range of celebrities – and businesses – keen to be seen to boycott the hotel, or indeed the whole Dorchester Group’s range of hotels

Branson calls for Virgin to boycott Dorchester Group

This attention is bound to be having financial repercussions on the hotel chain as well as causing reputational damage. So much so, that the CEO (eventually) responded, with a line echoing the Beverly Hills Hotel’s response, which I paraphrase: Please think about the detrimental effect this has on our employees and the local community. We would never discriminate. Please try to put our owner’s politics out of your mind.

It just won’t wash. Owners’ politics and pronouncements are an intrinsic way that companies do business these days.

No rebuttal site – not even The Beverly Hills Facts.com – will work here. The LGBT community, and those sympathetic to the points they raise, will carry this boycott on for a long time to come, with significant financial and reputational implications.

More on Malaysia airlines’ crisis communications…

Just a quick follow up/edit after my last post on Malaysia Airlines’ approach to crisis communications. After the previous post the airline have found themselves in the unenviable place of having no information to share. The vacuum swiftly became all-encompassing, and the distressed families soon became the centre of global attention.

Coupled with the geo-political dynamics involved, the airline has inevitably taken second place to Government communications.

There is still no sign of the stricken plane. Clearly it’s a tragedy for those involved, but I stand by my original assertion – that at least in the first 48 hours-72 hours after the plane originally went missing, Malaysia Airlines ran a textbook crisis communications operation.

Since then though, it’s not been so good at all. There has been inconsistency between Government and the airline, but the worst aspect has been how the families were treated – particularly hearing things after the media had been told, and in some cases, hearing them by text.

Best practice: crisis communications and Malaysia Airlines

No airline ever wants to puts its crisis communications training procedures into practice, but over the last few days the Malaysia Airlines team have done an excellent job in communicating to a global audience what little information they have, in very difficult circumstances. Boeing have also followed their textbook procedures – so soon after the Asiana crash too.

At the time of writing MH370 is still missing. Clearly the airlines and investigators are prioritising finding the plane over communications. Events are still unfolding, and thoughts are with those affected, but the extremely professional approach of the airline instills significantly more confidence than, say, the much-criticised delayed response by Asiana recently.

In any crisis, speculation will fill a information vacuum. And this one has been no different. But what is different is that there has been very little ‘solid’ information since MH370 went missing on 8 March. But still Malaysia Airlines appear to be authoritative and in control.

Malaysia Airlines’ social channels – and once it was up and running their dark site  – is a textbook case in how to use modern communications channels effectively.

Malaysia Airlines’ first statement was released at 7.24am local time on Saturday 8 March on Facebook (possibly before the dark site was ready?) and linked to via Twitter, clarifying that the plane was missing since 2.40am (local time) and detailing the numbers of passengers, infants and crew.

Malaysia Airlines Twitter statement MH370

N.b. Someone from the BBC was the second person to get in touch

Within two hours the CEO had issued another statement on Facebook and the airline was contacting next of kin.

Malaysia Airlines use Facebook to publish statements during crisis

Malaysia Airline’s second Facebook statement re missing MH370

At 11am the press conference and CEO statement (also published on Facebook, not yet on the dark site) dealt with speculation that the plane had landing at Nanming, detailed the nationalities of the passengers, and spelled out the extensive experience of the Pilot and First Officer.

From 2.30pm all the social posts were headlines only – and referred people to a ‘dark site’ (a blog-type platform on a corporate website that only gets switched on during a crisis) via a regularly shared shortlink – www.bit.ly/MH370updates.

Malaysia Airlines' dark site link re MH370

Malaysia airlines changed their home page to highlight the ‘dark site’

The homepage of the dark site always features the latest information, clearly dated and in order. From this point all company information was  posted once, on ‘owned’ space, and links were shared via social channels.

(As an aside, both the dark site and the social channels pages appear to have ‘greyed out’ the colours in the corporate logo – a small but significant detail).


Boeing – crisis communications experts – in action again

At the time of writing, Boeing also seem to have suspended ‘news as usual’ on their corporate pages as well, instead, defaulting the home page to a “Deepest concern” statement, as it did post-Asiana.

Against this backdrop, and, given the lack of ‘news’ there is a lot of speculation, often in ‘reputable’ news organisations like Fox News, which Malaysia Airlines are not commenting specifically on. The airline has also (wisely) not been pulled into any of the discussions about the passengers with the alleged false passports.

Surprisingly perhaps, some of the Reddit threads, even the very early ones, have been extremely well-informed. Someone claiming to be a 777 pilot debunked a few myths, while someone else shared the link from Flightradar which showed the flight disappearing from the global tracking system. Genuinely very eerie.

News reports depict the family and friends of the passengers and crew being very upset about the lack of information available. As you’d expect them to be.

But given the lack of information to date, Malaysia Airlines and Boeing have shown how effectively crisis communications can be done, up until now.

How well they’ll do when there is information about what has happened to MH370 remains to be seen.

Organisational culture 7, social tools 1

Over the last month or so, I’ve been lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time with some of the UK’s foremost social business thinkers, letting their ideas ferment alongside my own. And I’ve been proudly commenting on blogs which extol the virtues of only loosely defining what social business is.

But the more I’ve thought about business culture v social technologies, the more convinced I am that culture beats tools hands down. The role of a social business consultant therefore becomes:

To help organisations develop and share a unifying and supportive culture

To advise on and introduce the most appropriate social tools to help people within organisations flourish and therefore do their jobs better

And while some businesses, particularly smaller, often newer and more nimble businesses find it easy to encourage everyone to adopt the same culture, adopting and adapting tools to help them do so, others are stuck in hierachical, geographical and political structures which make it harder to foster a shared culture.

To paraphrase some points from Euan Semple, JP Rangaswami and Lee Bryant recently:

For most of the 20th century, business communications relied on a cascades of paper, and business ‘memory’ relied on hierachical and structured filing systems. But now social technologies mean that networked communications can be much more the norm. And people can more easily find people (not follow processes) to help them do their job better.  As things were before the industrial revolution.

It’s no co-incidence that many of the bigger businesses which have ‘got’ social, have done so as a result of dealing with a crisis or a series of crises, because crises inevitably create a single challenge and focus for an organisation (the equivalent of a shared culture). During crises, hierachies go out of the window in favour of speed and skill. And crises rely upon a realtime data/feedback/information loop. Which I guess is partly how I’ve become so fascinated with social business as a concept – from running comms around crises.

The challenge that most organisations have – and which is great to hear people from Bupa (Nick Crawford), WWF (Adrian Cockle), IBM (Delphine Remy Boutang) and Adobe (Simon Morris), speak about before/during social media week and at Will McInnes‘ first social business session – is how to take larger organisations who haven’t had to focus on a crisis, on the cultural and technological journey towards becoming social businesses.

Social technologies can help organisations adapt some of their structures. But they will only really work if the organisational culture is ready for it. The organisation needs to be truly ready to listen to and act upon internal and external feedback.

You don’t become a social business by using the shiniest newest network featured on Mashable or Techcrunch.


Social business predictions part three

Reputation management will become a more recognised discipline around the board table

The more exposure the C-suite have to listening tools like Radian6, Sysomos, Onalytica et al, the more that CEOs will want to influence what they say. So-called ‘soft’ metrics are never going to have the clout of harder, ROI or savings-based metrics, but they will grow in importance.


Klout (and for that matter Peer Index and Kred) will have to fight even harder for credibility

Measuring influence is so totally dependent of the context, that the one-size-fits-all approach will be shown up. Just as it’s impossible to answer “what’s the most important newspaper” without knowing why the question is being asked, it’s also impossible to answer “who is the most influential person on Twitter?” without knowing why. That won’t stop loads of people peddling ridiculous ‘league tables’ of influence though.


Social media gurus will be found out. If they haven’t been already

They add no value. The people who will add value though, are the ones who can apply social tools to solve business-problems, ranging from cutting call-centre costs (by using more social channels) to increasing website conversions, or reducing staff-churn.

They are therefore likely to have more experience and a broader business perspective than one particular discipline. Already we’re seeing agencies like Dachis, Altimeter and Edelman blend these skills together. We like to think we do the same here.

In a really interesting post (and comments) Jay Bear suggests that PR agencies are not best placed to offer social business advice in this space. Perhaps unsurprisingly I disagree. For me, it’s the breadth of business experience (or capability) which is important, rather than the specific background of the consultant hired. And any PR consultant with a pedigree of crisis comms work can advise on operational/procedural change required to calm situations down…

But having said that – watch IBM as they start to make major inroads into the comms side of social business in 2012. The Lotusphere conference is a fascinating insight into what’s just around the corner – and proves that IBM have beaten both Facebook and Google to building enterprise social business tools.

September 11th, ten years on

(a personal post by Chris Reed)

Every generation has its defining moments. I thought the death of Princess Diana would be mine. But it wasn’t.

I first heard that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers during lunch in the BBC canteen. One of my Press Office colleagues received a text. We thought it was a joke at first, a ploy to get us to return to work before our hour was up. The next text confirmed that it wasn’t.

We rushed back to room 2000, joining 20 or so others watching a bank of 16 or so TVs as pretty much one by one they started showing live coverage of the terrible events unfolding in New York. I was media relations manager for the BBC at the time, looking after BBC News in particular.

My first instinct was to check my New York-based brother in law was OK. By an incredible quirk of fate (or perhaps the credibility of dialing from the BBC Switchboard), I got through to his mobile straight away. He had been turfed off a subway train one stop away from the World Trades Centre (he worked next door), and was safe. I told him to head home, and immediately phoned his wife in Manhattan, who was blissfully unaware of what was unfolding, but grateful he was safe.

And then to work. A veritable hands on lesson crisis communications, working alongside some extremely talented people – in particular Jon Steel, Mark Ogle and Donald Steel.

Read More

Is your business ready for its social crisis?

We’ve been doing a fair bit of work with companies recently, helping them to dovetail social media and crisis response protocols for when the inevitable arises.

I’ve got form in this space: from my media-focused crisis communications experience in PR (cutting my teeth in the BBC during September 11th, then helping to run London’s Congestion Charging PR campaign), to then being called in by Eurostar to help them out with their sn0w-induced operational and social media crisis in Christmas 2009.

So this report naturally caught my eye. And I have to say, agree with pretty much every word in it.

Jeremiah Owyang and the Altimeter Group, undoubtedly one of the foremost thinkers in the social media space recently published a review of the state of readiness amongst 140+ organisations with 1000+ employees, and found a distinct lack of readiness across the board – apart from some of the very largest organisations.

Their starting point is this:

We define a social media crisis as a crises issue that arises in or is amplified by social media, and results in negative mainstream media coverage, a change in business process, or financial loss.

And one of his conclusions – that there is a significant amount that most organisations could do to better prepare themselves for a crisis is undoubtedly one we’d agree with 100%.

Which is, I guess, one of the reasons that we’re very busy in this space recently.

The full report is here – well worth a read…

And if you’d like to talk about how your organisation can better join up your social media and crisis response teams, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.