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Get Your Brand off The Ground with Aviation PR

It’s been a turbulent few years for the aviation industry. There are questions over air travel security, ongoing debates about an additional runway at Heathrow, and general consumer dissatisfaction about flight delays. Add in poor customer service and you have an industry in desperate need of some good aviation PR.

But with new technologies making flying safer, and a renewed focus on improving customer service on the ground, there are plenty of good news stories around. And its stories like these that benefit from PR activity.

Whether your business is an airport, airline or aircraft manufacturer, you can use public relations to improve your reputation, garner public support, and manage your crisis communications.

Here’s how two of the industry’s top players have done it.

Lufthansa Group

In March 2015, Germanwings, a Lufthansa owned company, faced every airline’s worst fear: one of its flights crashed, killing all 150 passengers and crew. Rumours immediately started circulating that the plane was crashed deliberately by the co-pilot, who was suffering from depression.

This led to intense scrutiny of the airline from the media and stakeholders. But Lufthansa quickly took control of the situation using effective public relations strategies.

How they did it

In an incident-driven crisis such as an air disaster, the first 24 hours are crucial. Scrutiny is high and, however prepared an organisation is, it needs to manage the glare of the media spotlight.

At this early stage, it’s all about doing right by those who have lost family, friends and colleagues – and being seen to express the right sentiments.

Within hours, Lufthansa had established itself as an authoritative and caring voice in the crisis. CEO Carsten Spohr made a public statement exuding emotion and empathy for the victims of the crash, their families and friends – describing it as “our worst nightmare”. And when crew members refused to work the day after the crash, Spohr did not try to discredit their unease. Instead, he publicly defended their decision, speaking of a close-knit “Germanwings family” that has been overcome by “mourning and shock”.

Online, both Germanwings and Lufthansa changed the colour of their logos to grey, and removed all images from their Twitter and Facebook pages. In addition, all online marketing was withdrawn, as were some billboard posters.

Lufthansa also set up a crisis management centre that issued regular updates through multiple channels, while extending psychological and financial support to relatives of those who had lost their lives.

There is not much more an airline can do following a catastrophic event; it can, however, do much less, as illustrated by Malaysia Airlines’ confused and insensitive handling of the disappearance of Flight MH370.

Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Airport is a national asset, but in recent years, particularly since the launch of Terminal 5 in 2008, its reputation has been primarily formed by bad news stories.

How they did it

In order to restore pride and confidence in the airport, BAA launched an innovative PR campaign in the summer of 2011. They appointed the first ever airport writer-in-residence to tell the story of a week at Heathrow. The resulting book helped humanise Heathrow by capturing the emotion of the airport, the tens of thousands of people who work there, and the 67 million passengers who pass through it each year.

Alain de Botton, a respected philosopher, writer and television presenter, was selected for the post. He was given unprecedented access to all areas of the airport, and full creative control over the finished book – a bold move by Heathrow, as the airport was opened up for literary critique, but one that gave instant credibility to the project.

In a further PR push, extracts of the book were read over the airport’s PA system and 10,000 copies given away to travellers in the lead up to launch date.

The innovative campaign did wonders for the airport’s image. ‘A Heathrow Diary’ reached number 48 in the Amazon book chart just two days after launch, and the story was covered in more than 300 national and international newspapers, generating positive coverage across the board.

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