British Airways and LinkedIn row law firm demonstrate the need to react and protect the brand

Two incidents in the past few days showed how to and how not to defend your business brand in a crisis.

The first was the engine fire on the British Airways (BA) plane on a Las Vegas runway, with its dramatic pictures being aired on breakfast news channels. We saw the flames, the BA logo and the dazed passengers standing on the runway.

Within an hour or so on the news ticker tape at the bottom of the TV screen flashed up a simple but very powerful statement from Rolls-Royce declaring that the engines on the British Airways plane were not linked with the engineering giant.

I had certainly assumed that an engine on a BA plane would automatically be a Rolls-Royce – British icon paired with British icon. I had thought of the reputational hit that was going to be suffered by both BA and Rolls.

But Rolls’ quick action, and indeed BA’s handling of the post-event news where the work of the pilot and the cabin crew was praised, lessened any impact.

It was not a PR handling issue as such, though of course both companies media teams were heavily involved in relaying any news updates and explanations, it was also a brand handling issue.

The speed and quality of the response by both companies helped protect the image of the brand – BA by stressing its professionalism and Rolls by quickly stating that it had no questions to answer.

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The second incident was slightly different.

It was the case of solicitor Alex Carter-Silk’s LinkedIn message to barrister Charlotte Proudman. We all know the story and there has been plenty of column inches about whether Carter-Silk’s compliment of Proudman’s appearance was acceptable, inappropriate or outright sexist.

What we didn’t hear was the reaction of Carter-Silk’s employers Brown Rudnick apart from a few comments suggesting that he was “that kind of bloke”, someone who spoke before thinking.

There was no concerted attempt by Brown Rudnick to immediately come out of the blocks after the story broke in the media to explain Carter-Silk’s actions, to perhaps make an official apology on his behalf or to mention that its ethos is to have a sexist free workplace where women’s rights were properly adhered to.

There was nothing – silence. Of course it is unlikely outside of the world of the law or businesses which have used the company’s services that the general public will have ever heard of Brown Rudnick.

But they do now and the chances of them turning to the group to help them through a legal situation in the future? Well, it must certainly be a mark against the firm in the battle for case work.

It should have come out quicker and dealt with the potential damage to its brand. You can’t close your eyes and wish it will go away.

It is a lesson for all businesses large and small. The potential impact of a negative media story on your business and brand in the modern age of 24-hour channels and social media is huge but the lesson is not being learned.

Businesses must have a brand protection strategy in place in case a crisis occurs. Of course, each will likely have a media strategy and a PR strategy – with either in-house or third party specialists. These guys will handle the press calls and the interview requests. Statements will be issued from their departments.

But businesses must also think of the brand and how it will be damaged in customers eyes – both paying customers and suppliers. It would be intertwined with the PR strategy but would think more broadly and deeply – how is this incident being discussed on Twitter or Facebook, have customers perceptions of the brand changed and how can you measure that quickly and respond appropriately.

Perhaps a new brand director or brand defender role could be created to keep a constant monitor on this. Loyalty to a brand is not as strong as it used to be some surveys say. We are more willing to switch from one to another to find better service or price.

If that is the case the strength of a brand becomes more important, not less. You have more customers to play for and more customers to lose if you fail to defend the brand. Sometimes of course you will be in the wrong, the brand will be damaged.

But providing a quick and thorough response will always be the best reaction and strategy.

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