Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Qantas Luxury: What I Would Have Done


Last night I jotted down some thoughts as the Qantas Airways #qantasluxury crisis churned away online. 

I can see exactly how #qantasluxury happened. 

The executive team at Qantas would have been churning out BAU (business as usual) messages to rally the troops in light of the negative media they have been receiving around flight groundings and union standoffs.

So, BAU they did. 

Marketing person fires up the Twitter with her brief to position Qantas as a full-service, flagship brand up against price-fighter Jetstar. 

Giving away free merch on Twitter generally works very well for big brands and you get good, positive engagement results. 

So, marketing person rummaged around in the corporate swag cupboard (I have one myself) and bundled some gear to throw on Twitter as a wee promo. 

All very unremarkable and very common business practises. BAU. 

So where did it go wrong?

Qantas is not trading under BAU and it’s naive to think that they are.  People don’t forget the weeks of negative coverage. It’s the national carrier. It employs heaps of people. It is a very high-touch, high-engagement brand and business. 

Qantas misread the sentiment and the generally higher educated and politically aware, news savvy people that are on Twitter gave it back to them. 

I’ve been involved in a number of crisis comms situations (mainly offline in traditional media) and the difference between a train wreck and a ‘whew I can’t believe we got away with that’ is often the ability of the comms manager to step back and not panic. 

Only someone who has been on the frontline can relate to that sickening feeling you get when your phone rings at 6pm on a Friday night and your project is going to be front-page news in the weekend papers for all the wrong reasons. 

What I would have done

First port of call for me would have been to the CEO.  The ‘Houston-we have a problem’ moment that drains all the blood from your soul. 

Second, I would call/email the entire executive team and tell them not to comment to media. This would include legal and possibly an external public relations firm if you have one too for investor relations. 

The message would be “don’t comment. Act dumb. Say you haven’t seen the #qantasluxury hashtag and you’re not the person that talks on those things.” Put everything through to the comms manager who can protect people and buy time. That’s what they are there for. 

Third, I would order everyone out of the pool on and offline. 

All social media accounts are to stop publishing including personal accounts. Go dark. (note: this is very controversial and I have never been able to convince any company to do it. However, I see public domain comment by employees online as a risk in a crisis situation). 

An email/ yammer to all staff with an equal measure of “it’s under control” and “if you talk to media we’ll bloody fire you.” Serious. I’ve had these chats before. 
Be aware that, especially when you are in a change management process like Qantas, disgruntled employees may forward the messages to media so write for the public domain. 

Fourth, I would call an analyst to start mining the data across on and offline media. 

I certainly would not be talking to anyone without seeing a top-line level of sentiment activity. Remember-when you are trending at number one on Twitter Australia your job is containment. Trying to send clever “hey guys thanks for entering” tweets is like trying to put out a bushfire with a garden hose. What topics can you provide clarification on? What arguments will you never win? Is it targeted at the CEO, unions, service, food, groundings, offshoring? I was very surprised to see mainstream news outlets publishing comments from interviews with Qantas people in the middle of the event. Far too knee-jerk. 

Fifth, I would assess the data and come up with a written statement. The recent Telecom “abstain” statement is an excellent example of this working well. The tone is “whoops we messed up, we tried to be funny but we weren’t.” It’s a big step back. Don’t try and be tricky. Comments suggesting that ‘any publicity is good publicity’ are absolutely ridiculous, lazy and unsophisticated. Bad media ruins brands in the same way that good media makes brands. 

With emotions running high, bad decisions can be made out of ego, blame, and sheer panic. 

Good crisis responses whether you get caught in a rip at the beach or responding to a natural disaster require planning, systems, trust and leadership. 

That’s what I would have done. 

Posted via email from cjlambert's posterous

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