Are press releases still relevant in an airline crisis?

When it comes to an airline crisis, the importance of press releases to represent facts or the company’s stance seem to be dialling down in this hyper-connected world, and rightly so.

Instead, we see CEOs stepping up to the frontline to share their personal thoughts about a crisis — several hours before any press release is put out.

During the recent bombing at Brussels Airport in March 2016, the airport’s CEO Arnaud Feist tweeted from his personal account in three languages to express solidarity. This was five hours before the first official statement was issued.

Below is a look at the break-down of events, taken from the case study in Airline Crisis Guide 2016. Pay attention to how quickly events transpired on social media, versus how long it took for the first official statement to be issued.

During tough times, a leader’s best weapon is his words. They need to be timely, regular and personal. Tony Fernandes’ extraordinary and timely leadership during the AirAsia QZ8501 crash a year ago was well documented.

In the past year, we have analysed more than 45 airline crises. Most airlines stayed mum until the first official statement or press release had been put out, at least 6-12 hours after the incident had happened. In today’s context, press releases take too long to go out because of the approval processes involved, and the fact checking required.

Airline crisis communications for today

Here are a few points to consider for airlines when the next crisis hits.

  • Attach a face to the brand because it makes the brand more relatable and shows accountability. It is much more persuasive hearing “I’m working on it” from a human being versus from a corporate entity that just acknowledges facts.
  • Become the authoritative source, fast. In this hyper-connected age, airlines likely will not be the first source of information. However, they need to establish themselves as the authoritative source quickly, especially on social media — because that is where media and the public increasingly seek information from. Also, look out for any rumours to be quelled in the online conversation space where virality is most likely.
  • Press releases are still relevant but do not rely only on them. Press releases can serve two purposes. A quick press statement, after an incident to acknowledge the event. Then, a detailed press release hours later to consolidate all knowledge gathered until then. In between, the airline needs to be very active on all social channels, connecting with the press, passengers and their relatives.

Start thinking about what fits your culture, or what needs to change about your culture to stay relevant as airline crisis communications evolve.

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Further resources

  • A sleek videographic that reflects the state of airline crisis communications today
Li Guen

Li Guen

Head of Communications and Marketing at SimpliFlying
Li Guen heads the communications and marketing functions at SimpliFlying where she drives corporate branding efforts and industry research initiatives. Prior to this, Li Guen was at Weber Shandwick working with clients including Rolls-Royce, Changi Airport Group and P&G. In her free time, Li Guen likes trekking mountains in Asia. You can tweet her at @SimpliGuen or email her at guen@simpliflying.com.
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