ARLINGTON, VA: US Airways president and CEO David Siegel paid tribute to the power of PR as a key factor in the airline's March 31 emergence from Chapter 11 protection, citing clear messaging and including communications executives in all major decisions as crucial to the program's success.
"The overall communications strategy was embedded in that we helped with decisions and the overall strategy," said Chris Chiames, SVP of corporate affairs. "Our policy was to communicate consistently, not to over-promise, to be forthright and forthcoming about what our goals were, and to do that throughout the process."
The first goal was to let stakeholders know that a Chapter 11 filing was a tool for financial restructuring, something that both Siegel and Chiames likened to jumping into a pool to swim laps. "We didn't fall or get pushed in by accident, only to flail around searching for a way out," Siegel said.
The result was the fastest successful bankruptcy reorganization of a large, publicly traded company, according to BankruptcyData.com.
Because costs for the program were necessarily minimal, management needed to keep its communications operations mostly in-house. "Early on, we had Sitrick & Company," said Chiames. "They helped with the original filing plan and stayed on during the whole process to advise and help in identifying what the issues would be."
Including support and administrative staff, the US Airways communications department had 11 employees who performed IR, government affairs, national and local community affairs, and media relations during the six-and-a-half-month bankruptcy period.
In an April 3 speech to the American Bar Association, Siegel listed seven points that he dubbed, "Suggestions for success, speed, and sanity in managing a Chapter 11 process." Two of the points included key communication mantras. Siegel recommended that companies communicate consistently, clearly, and constantly to all stakeholders, as well as put a human face on the company.
"It demonstrated that the management team was actively engaged and fully committed to a successful restructuring," Siegel explained.
Only one week after the Chapter 11 deadline, the company finished first in the Airline Quality Rating, which is a study based on safety, service, and customer feedback.