Always Be Prepared to Respond to the Public, Say Aviation Crisis Specialists

22 May 2019

Always Be Prepared to Respond to the Public, Say Aviation Crisis Specialists

Business aviation is an industry that knows how to minimize and manage risk. Pilots rely on checklists and training to manage operational risk – the same tools that organizations can use to manage reputational risk.

Those tools, and how to prepare for the unexpected, were the focus of a crisis communications panel at the 2019 European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE2019) on 22 May.

“In a crisis, your brand is on fire and you have to extinguish it,” said moderator Taunya Renson-Martin, a strategic communications advisor for EBAA. “The role of crisis communications is to prevent further escalation of the crisis and to gain trust back from your internal and external stakeholders.”

The way to do that is by gathering and sharing knowledge, acting quickly and taking ownership, said the panelists.

Every crisis is different. Aircraft accidents and incidents could become crises, especially if they involve well-known people, said Dan Hubbard, NBAA senior vice president of communications. Crises are also perception-driven. “Occasionally during sweeps weeks, local TV news crews will try to get into an airport and touch an airplane, then run a story on business aviation security. That could set off a crisis,” he said.

Any timely, unanticipated event that negatively affects the business could be a crisis. To prepare for these events, panelists urged aviation companies and organizations to have a crisis management plan. This starts with brainstorming potential crises, identifying a response team and laying out clear actions.

For example, take action by preparing key messages and statements. Even before a crisis hits, these statements can start as templates that are populated with the facts as they become known.

“When the crisis first hits, you need to take charge of the flow of information about the event, even though at that point you don’t really know very much,” said Marc Cornelius, founder and managing director, 8020 Communications. “That enables you to get the news out quickly to the parties who are already asking for it.”

Speed is essential because crises usually create information gaps. “Something happened, and the media and third parties want to know what, and you generally do not have the information they want.” said Luciano Luffarelli, head of external communications and public affairs for Piaggio Aerospace.

The public will want to know exactly what happened, why, who is to blame, and what the organization is doing about it. Fill this information gap quickly, according to the plan, and do it with compassion and empathy.

“People may forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel,” said Frederique Luca, senior manager of communications for EBAA. “Show that you’re listening and that you care.”