OPINION: Smooth PR follows BA's bumpy landing

The PR world is always holding on for a hero and last week its prayers were answered. British Airways flight BA038, which came so close to crashing catastrophically, delivered manna from heaven to the BA media team in the form of Captain Peter Burkill and his crew.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

Notably, the papers seized on a hero named Coward - the co-pilot who glided the stricken plane to its terrifyingly bumpy but safe halt.

The drama was the ultimate near miss - as an aviation and a communications disaster. Plane crashes and near- disasters rarely bolster public confidence in airlines. Yet BA's comms team was able, within hours, to parade a cast of true Brit heroes who could have stepped from a 1950s movie matinee. The credits even included a female lead in the shape of cabin services director Sharon Eaton-Mercer.

To say that it was, in every sense, a PR tour de force is in no way to diminish the fact that each of the crew performed in a manner that was truly heroic, operating at the very limits of their professional abilities and human resilience.

But full marks to the comms team for its presentational genius of its cast of heroes. Televised press conferences were marked by cheering and applause from those in attendance. Each press utterance of Captain Burkill was perfectly weighted to convey an image of a captain whose team had simply done a duty for which it was trained. No sense of individual glory was conveyed, only a quiet and understated team pride along with proper apologies to the miraculously few who had been injured.

The briefing that told the press how the crew had celebrated their heroics 'with a curry' gave the story another memorable element to add to the humility. The Sunday follow-through of human interest interviews was exemplary and continued to direct a favourable news agenda that concentrated on the human skill that saved lives rather than on the mechanical failures that could have cost so many.

It would have been crude PR to mention the Battle of Britain and no-one did.

The skilled presentation of the heroics of BA's few could prompt increased passenger confidence and numbers. Certainly the PR dividend will continue as Captain Burkill's team sweeps the board at every 2008 awards ceremony.

Give PROs real heroes and the sky's the limit. The big comms challenge now is for the rest of us to find our own heroes - and it will be difficult to compete with the staff of BA038.

- Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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