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Qantas scores a PR victory, at last

Posted on 28/03/2011 by Cole Lawson in Media relations

I must give credit where credit is due. On this blog in January 2011, I gave a very scathing account of Qantas's PR in recent years. In particular, I gave the company a pasting for the failure to capitalise on the potential positives surrounding the QF32 A380 incident.

I criticised the company's "no-comment" mentality for having slowly eroded the company's safe reputation and for having alienated the media when the company and its investors needed them most.

I therefore feel that it's beholden on me to give Qantas a standing ovation tonight.

Their (new) corporate communication team and CEO have demonstrated an openness and leadership that will reap rewards for Australia's aviation icon.  

In recent months, Qantas management and pilots have participated in two documentaries - one with Channel 9's 60 Minutes and tonight's Air Crash Investigation-esque outing with ABC's 4 Corners.

It may seem like a risky strategy, particularly when compared to the company's historical "say nothing" approach. But by actually talking about a safety issue that has affected the company, Qantas has effectively filled a media vacuum and turned several hostile media investigations into heroic, positive publicity that made Qantas look great.

In tonight's coverage, one of the most telling quotes signalling the Qantas PR shift came from the company's CEO Alan Joyce. Making an assessment of Rolls Royce's public relations efforts he told 4 Corners:

"Rolls Royce's  PR strategy was that they were better off not communicating to the general public.

“Our view is that we had to be continuously out there with the facts and information.”

And so right he is.

By taking the considered risk to engage with the media, Mr Joyce has saved his company from a media onslaught that would have greatly impacted consumer sentiment and investor confidence.

I think there is a strong message here for companies that find themselves in the position of deciding whether to respond to an issue, or to "duck and cover".

The irony however, is that the same public relations attitude that Mr Joyce criticised in Rolls Royce is one that Qantas maintained for so long.

But at least now, they're finally on the right flight path.