Wednesday, June 16, 2010

PR vs The Spirit Pilots

A recent bNet blog by Brett Snyder does a good job outlining the PR situation surrounding the Spirit pilot strike. Though my personal experience with the strike differs a bit from Mr. Snyder’s opinions - I reflexively sided and identified with the pilots (labor), probably due to my own attitudes as much as the actual media coverage - Synder correctly points out that the pilots have actively ceded the PR advantage to Spirit management, by declining to provide any information. Shame on them!

Nature (and the media, of course) abhors a vacuum, and the Pilots’ union at the center of the strike should have realized that if they weren’t willing to fill that vacuum with commentary, details, and other story-building efforts, and in doing so gain the support of the traveling public, the other side most definitely would.

And that, according to Snyder and my own opinion, is exactly what has happened.

One of the basic tenets of crisis communications is to appear candid and upfront at all times (hello BP?). Another is to try and define the story on favorable terms, and to maintain as much control over the story as possible. At times these can be futile pursuits (see Petroleum, British redux), but the interesting thing is that failure to properly execute these strategies often results in the same outcome as not trying to execute them at all. What a quandary, huh?

Common sense tells us this: a stonewall is interpreted as guilty denial, a ‘no comment’ is an implication of guilt.

It can be argued that this isn’t technically a crisis situation; after all, a strike isn’t at all like an oil spill, or a bankruptcy. It’s true, a labor dispute does not by definition call for a crisis communications strategy. But in a sense the Spirit debacle is more dangerous to both sides from a PR perspective if only because each side is actively trying to pin blame on the other. It’s also worth remembering that this is in fact a crisis for US CONSUMERS, particularly those travelers with cancelled flights and plans due to Spirit’s and the union’s actions. The aggrieved parties -- and anyone else who can sympathize or identify with the affected consumers, which would be, um, everyone -- will also be looking to assign blame.

So in this sense, this is indeed a crisis situation, and demands good crisis communications to mitigate it. Unfortunately for the union, management seems to have heeded this advice sooner, and have seized the advantage.

Once again, shame on them.

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