Speaking at PRWeek’s first conference on crisis communications, Burns relayed how he called the company’s board ‘barking mad’ when it decided to dish out free flights to staff ahead of compensating customers.
But he explained the widely criticised move was designed to retain frontline personnel at Heathrow Airport during the busiest time of the year.
‘I charged into the board meeting and told them [they were] barking mad to only compensate staff given the potential for corporate reputation damage,’ he said.
‘BA knew it would get a media kicking, so why did we do it? Check-in staff had been to hell and back... and we just needed to risk taking a punch on the nose.’
A raft of other speakers took to the stage at the London event – ‘Taking the drama out of a crisis’ – to discuss their experiences of crisis comms.
Kissmann Langford managing partner Edna Kissmann, who advises firms such as Merck Sharp & Dohme, called on the pharma industry to invest in CSR to salvage its reputation: ‘In terms of reputation, the [pharma] industry could go the same way as the tobacco industry unless it does something drastic.’
United Airlines media relations chief (EMEA) Kevin Johnston also discussed how the company managed the fallout of 9/11.