Global newsmaker: Katherine Bennett

Katherine Bennett is the new vice-president, head of political affairs for plane giant Airbus, following promotion from her UK-focused role.

Katherine Bennett
Katherine Bennett
The firm behind the double-decker A380 plane has 10,000 staff in the UK and a further 51,000 across 14 sites in three European Union countries.
Katherine talked to PR Week about liaising with countries across the globe and the challenges of sustainable aviation.

Describe your daily work routine.

As I always advise any new people entering our profession to do, I have to say that when I am in the UK, I wake up to the Radio 4 Today programme every morning.  I then have to admit that I do jump around radio stations on my drive in to work, and I also try to tune in to the local radio station news – just in case they mention anything I might need to be aware of about local issues.  My routines do vary as I work in Toulouse (where Airbus HQ is), Bristol and London, and increasingly I will be travelling to other European capitals, as well. The first thing I do when I arrive in the office is to try and give a cheery "good morning" to the team – it’s an important way to start the day well and sometimes forgotten about by people.  For the rest of the day, the all consuming conference calls and meetings take over.  One of the nicest things I have noticed about working in France is that they always try and take the lunch hour – very sociable.

What are your media news must-haves in digital/print?
Over the past year, I have become a really big fan of "The Week".  It provides such a good summary of weekly news, and I like the non-core news articles, as well. I particularly like the "quotes of the week" – it’s good for adding some flavour into speeches.  For political coverage I prefer The Guardian, but I do keep an eye on others. In my new role I am having to get to grips with the continental media agendas, so I keep a close eye on publications like Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Les Echos and El Pais. Online media for me is BBC online and Google alerts.  I have always been a voracious reader – plane or train journeys, at home relaxing and occasionally in the bath!  I have an obsession with reading – my husband even teases me that when out walking I want to read every notice on every lamppost!
Having moved from a role focused on UK government relations, how will you adapt to liaise with countries across the globe?
One of my first tasks was to frantically re-read my old university Politics notes about government institutions in other countries, but the best way is to talk to the experts.  Airbus has a network of excellent people who deal with political affairs from Beijing to Brasilia, and I know it is important to rely on their local knowledge and not demand government relations are done "my way or the highway".  Someone once described Airbus as "Politics with wings on it" and they were not wrong.  My intention is to get the focus onto our products and our customers rather than the political dimension.
How are you persuading the new UK coalition government to put industry at the top of the political agenda?

I don’t believe I need to "persuade" the new coalition government to do that; they are already well aware of the importance of aviation to the UK.  I always advise colleagues that the best way to do good government relations is to research what is in the recipient’s in-tray – therefore I am talking to the government about the challenges of the economic crisis, and how we can work together with them.  Having said that, I have been heartened by the government’s approach to our industry- they completely understand the importance of the UK’s role in Airbus whether it is our excellence in engineering, technology developments or manufacturing.  I am also dedicated to ensuring that there is a balanced debate on sustainable aviation and I see this more acutely now I have a global role.
What is the single biggest global PR issue that Airbus has to deal with – and how are you dealing with it?
There are always many issues to keep us busy, but I would say that the US/EU trade dispute at the WTO regarding government support for aerospace has been an interesting example of a global issue which only preoccupies the time of a few of us, but which could have a wide ranging impact.  As our CEO said the other day, Airbus considers the whole dispute absurd especially as there are other countries beyond the US and EU actively supporting their industries. Aerospace is a sector most economies around the world would like to have.  From a PR perspective it is not easy to explain, but it is certainly an important public policy debate.

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