EDITORIAL: Boeing can keep its 7E7 plans on track if it truly communicates as Downey described in PRWeek

A few weeks ago, we published a Corporate Case Study on Boeing's commercial-aircraft unit, only days before the dismissal of CFO Michael Sears and another executive for "unethical conduct," and a week or so prior to the resignation of CEO Phil Condit. Now the fate of the proposed 7E7 Dreamliner, its PR and marketing plan already underway, is in jeopardy.

A few weeks ago, we published a Corporate Case Study on Boeing's commercial-aircraft unit, only days before the dismissal of CFO Michael Sears and another executive for "unethical conduct," and a week or so prior to the resignation of CEO Phil Condit. Now the fate of the proposed 7E7 Dreamliner, its PR and marketing plan already underway, is in jeopardy.

Newly appointed CEO Harry Stonecipher has said that his "number-one priority is to restore our reputation with that huge customer called the US government." It's a goal that, while not necessarily at odds with the commercial-airliner ambitions, may eclipse them nonetheless. PRWeek's story reported that the commercial unit had developed an integrated communications and marketing program with a strong corporate component. "We do our planning from both the top down and the bottom up," Tom Downey, the division's VP of communications told our reporter, "So we have input and, yes, top management takes our advice - not just the president, but also each of the folks who sit at that table. We're helping develop and implement corporate strategy, not just communications strategy." Downey reports to both his division chief, as well as to Tod Hullin, who recently took over as SVP. Boeing's corporate-reputation crisis will now take precedent, and the commercial unit may or may not have a voice in its strategy to restore key customer relationships. We often hear stories about divisions informing corporate messaging and integrating the brand across product lines. But the strength of these relationships, just like those with customers, is tested in crisis. Boeing's ability to move past its troubles will rely on collaboration and a common mission. If Downey's claim of corporate relevance is true, we'd like to see it in action. Atlanta added to PRWeek's 2004 forums The report of our final regional forum, this one from Austin, TX, appears in this issue. In 2004, we will tour seven cities rather than six, adding Atlanta to the list. Next year we will refine the discussions to specific and timely topics facing each region, and try to identify even more of the patterns defining the relationships between agencies, corporations, government, and the media. Readers are encouraged to help us discover not only potential participants, but also relevant topics that will help us draw out each area's true character and business climate. The principal benefit for us has been the opportunity to assess the depth of our regional knowledge and relationships. But in looking back, there are three points that emerge as fairly universal (some of which came out of private conversations rather than the roundtables themselves). As we head for 2004, it will benefit organizations of all types to consider how they impact them: First, there is almost universal concern over a lack of talent in the industry, especially at the mid-level. Next, the most compelling regional leaders of national PR firms are those who take pride in their role as business managers, not just PR pros. Finally, in spite of what many would like to hear, agencies and those who retain them see the world - and the market - very differently. This topic will be explored in greater depth in next week's column.

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