Reputation Woes All the Time

October 25, 2009

Reputation Woes All the Time

The airlines have a lot to tell us about managing reputation and being prepared. I came across an article in BusinessWeek a few months late but I found some of the advice about preparedness and reputation resilience worthwhile enough to repeat here. The gist of the article was that the airline industry “is truly the school of hard knocks.” They are always dealing with immense challenges such as soaring fuel prices, terrorism, storms, horrific events such as 9-11 and the global economic downturn, labor strikes, accidents and government intervention. Plus the airlines have amazingly vocal naysayers who take to the Internet when they lose a bag, dislike the food, miss a connection. American Airlines (Disclosure: Client) reaches out to people on social networking sites, according to Roger Frizzell, vice president of corporate communications, brand and advertising and quoted in an article on about brand detractors or “badvocates” as we call them at Weber Shandwick. “In August, when New York’s LaGuardia Airport closed a terminal due to a bomb threat, American Airlines posted notices on its Web site and sent a Tweet to its followers on Twitter. It leaves general information on lost baggage and canceled flights on its Facebook site. Getting the word out before consumers run into problems at the airport is one way to avoid criticism, says Frizzell.” Reputation management is a daily business in the airline industry.
Here are the lessons from the airline industry that BusinessWeek summarized.

1. You need to prepare for what you cannot control which is most everything today. Executives should be trained to respond to the unexpected and boards should review contingency plans because worst case scenarios do happen.

2. Board members need to be more patient while plans are being implemented as airline executives manage with unintended events. Sometimes the implementation is what makes or breaks a successful crisis response. Stakeholders are more forgiving when the recovery plan works.

3. Get all stakeholders aligned. The airline industry seems to have more than their share of stakeholders and if one segment is not moving in line with the others, beware. “For example, when airline employees oppose management, they take it out on customers, who in turn stop flying the airline, which in turn affects shareholder returns – a vicious cycle.” No one should be overlooked although it takes an army to manage this.

4. Seize the moment. In my book on reputation recovery, I called it Seize the Shift but it is the same idea. Opportunities come around usually only once when massive shifts in business or public opinion are bubbling up. Make them your opportunity because chances are that they won’t resurface in the near term. It is everyone’s job to be alert to those moments when fundamental change can be applied.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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