--> Gill Blog: The Communications Strategy of Flight 358

Gill Blog

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Communications Strategy of Flight 358

Never underestimate the power of the message. Yesterday's crash of a fully-loaded Air France Airbus clearly had the potential to turn out much worse than it actually did - miraculously, all 309 passengers and crew were able to escape the inferno that ensued - but the mere fact that a crash of this magnitude took place in the first place immediately threw Air France and Airbus into damage-control mode. The only way they navigate through the situation was to craft a precise communication strategy. I thought about communication and media strategy as soon as I realized the initial press conference - initially scheduled for 5:00 p.m. (some 50 minutes after the accident) - was bumped back; first to 5:30, and finally to just after 6.

Few details were offered in the initial briefing, however, the fact that everyone survived provided event spokespeople the opportunity to frame the media event with a palpable feel-good spin. The challenge of positive spin then shifted to the shoulders of Air France and Airbus to see how a good communication strategy might resue them from a potentially damaging situation. From Air France:
There are no fatalities. All passengers and crew members were able to clear the aircraft before the fire broke out. Twenty two passengers suffering minor injuries are treated in five area hospitals...Air France is paying homage to the entire crew to the Captain, to the First Officer and to the cabin crew. Their calm and professionalism have prevented a drama.

From Airbus:
This is the first ever accident of an A340 aircraft. The A340-300 is a four-engine long range wide-body. The first of the type entered service in February 1993. By the end of June 2005, 304 A340s had been delivered and are in service with 45 operators. To date, the entire fleet has accumulated some more than 7.5 million flight hours in some 1.1 million flights.

It will be interesting to analyze over the next week how this event has impacted the share prices of these companies. The point here is simple: a well thought-out communication strategy is a critical component in a comprehensive business continuity or risk management plan, and if executed properly, can substantially minimize damage to brand or reputation.

If you would like to explore ways your organization can address its communication strategy, feel free to contact our Advisor in this area, Reputation Management Associates.