Role of Public Relations in Airline Crisis Management
Management of crisis is a significant organizational function. An organization that fails to manage crisis could cause severe impairment to shareholders, losses for an organization which could eventually lead to the closure of the airline. Public relations practitioners play an important role in crisis management in different organizations globally. So a set of best practices and lessons garnered from our knowledge of crisis management in the airline would be a very useful resource for those in public relations (Fall, 2004). A crisis could be defined as a significant threat to the activities that can have adverse impacts on the corporate framework if the biggest problems are not dealt with accordingly.
In managing the risk in the airline, it is essential to analyze the potential damage that a crisis could impact on the organization and its shareholders. A catastrophe may result to different risks such as; safety to the entire public, loss of financial assets and loss in the goodwill of the entire airline or airport. Some disasters, such as plane crash could result into injuries and loss of lives. This would negatively impact the society as they lose their loved ones. Also, the disaster can create disruptions in the airline due to loses in the market share and eventually loss of financial position or laying lawsuits related to the crisis. When an organization is undergoing some crisis, the reputation will be damaged to a greater extent and this affects the customers’ attitude negatively. The above discussed threats are interrelated in such a way that injuries or deaths will result in financial and reputation loss while reputations have a financial impact on organizations (Regester & Larkin, 2008).
Study of Public Relations in the Airline and Airport
Public relations is practiced in many different organizational contexts. Through the communication planning and management of the organizational environments, public relations practitioners build and enhance organizational reputation and build and maintain relationships that are important to the airline organization and its goals. Most public relations departments are responsible for monitoring and responding to changes in the external environment, including issues, expectations, relationships, and reputation, and at the same time, also contribute to maintaining productive working environments within the organization through employee and management communication (Grunig, 2009). Effective staff communication explains organizational priorities and shares corporate information with the employees. This will ensure that employees are able to understand the need for change in the airline and obligate their determinations and ideas to helping the organization achieve its mission and goals.
Understanding Systems Theory
In the context of public relations, a system consists of different established interrelating components that bears through time and adjusting to change pressures from the environment to achieve and maintain goal states within an established margin by reacting and adjusting to change stresses from the environment to achieve the desired goals and objectives. This has seen different organizations as a system that exists to generate and attain objectives that are value additive to the body and the environment. The state objectives are; increasing profit margins, seeking more support from the providers of the share capital and maintaining the good reputation among others. Organizational systems are not static but rely on a series of exchanges of inputs and outputs between environments and organizations. The data is then converted using different organizational activities. This process of transformation could as well be affected by how different departments within the airline organization interact.
Boundary Spanning and Public Relations
Public relations can initiate variation to ensemble the shareholders’ requirements in a more appealing manner. This can be well demonstrated in by an example of Qantas is one of the main Australian airline with a good reputation. One of the key ecological aspects affecting all carriers is the increasing cost of aviation energy. The possible causes of the increasing costs would be reduction of available flights which results to increase in the ticket prices. For Qantas, public relations concern also includes damaging media reports about a range of incidents on the ground and in the air (Regester & Larkin, 2008).
Early systems theory suggested that a boundary through which information streamed was an organization and its environment were disconnected from the organization and its environment. It was not easy for public relations professionals to traverse the boundary as they would provide data to the situation about the organization and bring information about the environment back to the organizational decision makers.
The practitioner examined the boundary on a continuing foundation, with one foot in the organization and one foot outside. Both these roles continue in today’s organizations. In gathering the information about the key audiences and issues by public relations professionals, they used recognized and relaxed research tools. Knowledge of the attitudes and behaviors of the leading publics are important to organizations as they plan their objectives and approaches. There existed active communication engagements between the public relations managers of Qantas and the public but find that their deliberate determination is being tested by ongoing events and continued media interest. In late 2008, for example, Qantas public relations activities involved publicity around the first Qantas A380, which was a planned event, at around the same time as managing unexpected and certainly unplanned media and public interest in flight delays and safety incidents (Wooten & James, 2008).
In consideration of the source and value of information gained, public relations specialists carry out main logical purpose. This includes the information that may be significant to the immediate plans of the airline industry and therefore acted on in their order of priority, or it may have effects on its continuing strategies. Forward-looking airlines like Qantas establish sophisticated databases of information on issues and stakeholders to help them identify issue-specific and sector-wide trends and inform their long-term planning (Fall, 2004). In order to help achieve this role, public relations specialists play an important task of acting as the agents of the airline industry. They have also maintained close relationship with the key shareholders to ensure that they are always kept up to date on the events taking place in its surrounding. A critical example would be the case of employees of the airline threatening to strike or protest during their salary increment or decrement negotiations. If an organization is having knowledge of the occurrence of such a crisis, it can plan well in time to avoid or manage the situation early enough.
In scenario where pilots threaten to strike, their actions may affect the airline services. While governments and other air service providers may not be able to resolve the pilots’ call for better pay and improved working conditions it can at least prepare for the protests and issue a public notice on the same so as to create awareness of possible disruptions among the esteemed passengers and the general public. The outward flow of information from an organization, which the public relations practitioner develops and distributes, happens through direct and mediated communication channels such as websites, presentations, media releases, interviews, community meetings, and hotlines (Wooten & James, 2008). In order to ensure that the key groups are kept informed about the activities of the organization, it is the duty of the public relations specialists to communicate the organizations data to them. An airline manager in a remote location may need to communicate directly with residents about potential impacts during upgrade or establishment of an airstrip in the area. The public relations experts and the airline directors are involved in the following:
- They will work together to ensure that they strategize on the key issues of discussion and agree on the best way of representing the information to the target groups
- The public relations expert will come up with a well drafted communication material with simple and easy to understand questions and answers
- The airline manager might take the lead in the meeting with the people in the area where the given airline or airport is likely to be developed because he is the one responsible for activities onsite
Amendment and Edition
In an effective system, it is significant to put emphasis on an airline industry on acquiring the data it needs to operate such as the funds from the providers of capital based on the critical role that inputs play. It is the role of the public relations management to institute and maintain a relationship that is of mutual benefit and provides data to the organization; however, to secure these data, organizations may be required to amend their rules and regulations to fit the environment. Adaptation results from strategies in the form of organizational and environmental change programs that produce and maintain stability in corporate or environmental relationships (Grunig, 2009).
The adjustment may be problematic when an organization is faced with the challenge of conflicting interest within their audience groups and the public. Amending organizational strategy to favor one group may possible lead to the marginalization of the other. It should be noted that the public relations has to play an important role in ensuring that they help the senior decision makers within the organization in traversing this technical environment and apply different maintenance strategies achieve the most positive results likely. The desire by Qantas airline to increase the prices of the flight tickets to cover the rising cost of aviation fuel has been. This decision may be observed as inappropriate by the customers or passengers. On the contrary, it is seen as some way to protect the profitability of Qantas and the returns to its shareholders (Wooten & James, 2008). For another organization, they might decide to reduce the costs during the festive holidays due to the financial crisis, which may be detested with the employees as they feel as if they are being burdened. On the other hand, it is a one way to manage finances. In both cases, some explanation about the reasons behind the actions must be given (Alfonso & Suzanne, 2008).
Secure system and public relations
The closed system does not highly regard the roles of the public relations for the environment. Although public relations managers may acknowledge their surroundings and follow governing processes, they are improbable to interrelate with other peoples (Wooten & James, 2008). Instead, public relations departments will adopt a narrow communication perspective without considering environmental input
Open system and public relations
As outlined in the open system, public relations take on an approach which is practical and is anxious with two-way communication between the organization and the environment. This requires resources for organizations to not only monitor their conditions and public opinion but also to figure and uphold affiliations with the major agencies and stakeholders within their environment. These links are created as a result of both parties having the same interest in coming up with a clarification that meets the needs of different parts of the system. Additionally, public r works with the environment to determine what is being said about issues that affect multiple areas of the system (Wilcox, Cameron & Reber, 1992).
It is significant for an airline to forestall the importance of the climatic changes to its customers and use the information to create value for their customers hence winning their customers over their competitors. An example of an organization that adjusts to accommodate the needs of its environment is Virgin Blue’s carbon counterbalance platform. Recognizing the importance of climate change and the carbon economy, Virgin Blue, a low-cost airline with a base in Australia, has not only implemented operational changes to minimize greenhouse gas emissions but also offers customers the opportunity to offset the greenhouse gas emissions related to their individual flight (Alfonso & Suzanne, 2008).
The roles and responsibilities of public relations experts are influenced by two forces: the professionalization of public relations and the nature of the organizational environment The state of the organizational environment also affects the make-up of the public relations team. More intense conditions require more senior practitioners to be aware of the dynamic environment and how changes will affect the goals of the airline industry (Center, Jackson, Smith & Stansberry, 2008). Some of the challenges and the varying underlying forces of public relations emphasized to indicate that tensions exist in practice as public relations is evolving (Wooten & James, 2008).
Public relations and the airline advertising department
There is common ground between marketing in airline office and public relations functions in organizations, and in some organizations, the two functions are combined. Even though public relations and marketing may take the focus of a consumer, their relationship with customers comes from a different base. Marketing depends on customers to get services provided by the airlines and deliver a profit through an exchange process, whereas public relations see users as one part of a complex environment (Center, Jackson, Smith & Stansberry, 2008). The public relations and marketing in the airline has achieved one main point of difference which is the customer orientation and also the non-customer orientation. Although the incorporated marketing communication idea by most airlines have introduced a focus on non-customer relationships, public relations is the only service that explicitly considers non-customer publics and audiences, including employees, government, communities, and shareholders (Wooten & James, 2008).
Public relations and the legal department
It is essential for public relations specialists to create a good relationship with the legal team to be able to understand the legal consequences that may face the airline industry in which they are working together with in managing crisis. Besides, they need to understand the legal guidelines that are in line with how they conduct their activities not only in the airline but organization as a whole. This can be achieved if they regularly meet with the legal team and interact with them at a deeper length to enable them understand the key legal requirements pertaining to their roles. Practitioners should also gain an understanding of the different laws or rules that may have an impact on their practice (Grunig, 2009). Public relations professionals should possess a basic understanding of state, territory, and federal laws relating to their organization and its industry, rules or codes of conduct of professional associations, privacy, copyright and trademark law, trade practices law, employee rights, and corporate disclosure rules (Wooten & James, 2008).
During a crisis, most decisions about the release of information are made collaboratively, with lawyers in the leadership role yet it is just as important to manage the court of public opinion (Grunig, 2009). While traditional advocacy strategies might use the media, an effective strategy during litigation is the internet. Full adherence to the laws of the land may be started against the airline, airport or both. This can occur even before the dust has settled at the accident site and even if this does not occur, there is still need to copy all documents that might become pertinent to the crash before the originals remain seized by the investigation or the judicial authorities. Such matters are all part of the crisis and therefore a part of air transport management that may affect the whole industry and its future (Wooten & James, 2008).
The role of public relations in emergency procedures
There must have been occasions globally when similar comments could have been leveled at the airline concerned. Although there is no magic formula for success, there can be no doubt that careful planning training and practice can minimize the adverse effects of a major accident, yet it cannot be done in isolation.
The public relations play the following roles in the airport to manage emergency caused by the airplanes:
- To be responsible for developing the media messages regarding any event that may arise during the flight.
- The public relations should be responsible for all stakeholder communications including the Board, Foundation personnel, donors, grantees suppliers or vendors and the media.
- Serve as the primary media contact.
- Update and maintain Web site so that both the clients and the public could always stay updated.
- Monitor media coverage and provide rumor control.
In conclusion, the airport and airline safety managers should be aware of the fine line that may exist between having an incident and having a major accident. They are also conscious of the advantages of having well-prepared emergency procedures to minimize the social and financial effects of an accident should one ever occur. Besides, there is need to ensure proper human resource management to ensure the airline activities are carried out in line with the legal transport requirements. The public relations would then play an important role to ensure these objectives are achieved effectively.
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Regester, M., & Larkin, J. (2008). Risk issues and crisis management in public relations: A casebook of best practice. Kogan Page Publishers.
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