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PR disaster

Posted by putsimply on 31st March 2008

Heathrow T5When wannabe EMLers come in for an interview they’re often asked to give a presentation on a PR disaster of their choice. Over the years we’ve had them all including the likes of Exxon Valdez, Nestle baby milk, Ratner and the Millennium Dome to name a few. Given the antics at Heathrow Terminal 5 over the last few days it’s a sure fire bet that this fine specimen of a case study joins the list before too long.

In dissecting this disaster, it’s obvious that by far the biggest mistake the BAA and British Airways made was over hyping the launch and setting expectations sky high. Had they just been a little bit more humble about it all then I think the press and more importantly passengers might have given them a little bit of leeway whilst they iron out teething troubles in the first few weeks. The thing is we’ve had propaganda about Heathrow Terminal 5 coming at as from all angles for weeks, months, and years. Right up to the opening day Willie Walsh, BA’s chief executive was waxing lyrical about how ABSOLUTELY AMAZING everything was and how T5 was the best thing since sliced bread. With this arrogance they were always putting themselves up for a fall if anything did go wrong.

The next mistake came when they refused to come out and hold their hands up when things did start to go wrong and acknowledge there had been mistakes. Even when BA’s director of operations Gareth Kirkwood eventually came out to face the band of press and angry customers he issued a bland, emotionless statement that was far from convincing and then disappeared without taking questions. I’m sure Mr. Kirkwood must have been on countless media training courses during his career but he probably needs to go on some more!

Willie WalshAfter issuing this statement they then pretty much shut up shop in terms of dealing with the media for a long time. This only served to irritate people and left the press no option but to fill their bulletins or newspaper pages with accounts from disgruntled passengers.

I, like many millions of other potential T5 users/BA customers watched GMTV on Friday morning and heard the presenters telling over and over again how BA/BAA had refused to respond to their invitation to participate in an interview as they showed live accounts from numerous passengers all telling the same story – either there was no communication at all or where there was communication people were being given wrong or contradictory information.

My fellow PutSimply blogger Juliet was actually one of the merry band of volunteers who helped test out all the facilities and processes a few weeks ago. Perhaps she should have given them a crash course in handling PR during a crisis whilst she was at it.

  • juliet

    Yes, I was there and came away saying that it was never going to work. However, I thought that it would be the security that would let the side down as, with just 2000 people in the building, it took 25 minutes to get through to airside.

    Perhaps I should have realised that the planning was not all that it should have been when I was unable to get the volunteers’ lunch of a sandwich, packet of crisps and bottle of water (or packet of Ribena) at 12.30 pm because they had already run out!

    It was an interesting day and one I will dine out on for some time to come.