Opinion: Battle of the Cross

Alastair Campbell famously told a journalist 'we don't do God' when Tony Blair was asked about his Christianity. British Airways' PR professionals surely wish they were able to deploy a similar response on the increasingly powderkeg issue of faith in the past few days.

Any professional running their organisation's PR should pay keen attention to the media battering suffered by BA after its refusal to allow check-in employee Nadia Eweida to sport a crucifix on duty.

They could usefully start by asking themselves this question: ‘How would we cope with a Nadia Eweida figure in our organisation?'.

The answer, of course, is that many wouldn't cope, especially with a staffer happy to see her employer make the front pages for all the wrong reasons. In BA's case, a sophisticated, multinational organisation was comprehensively outplayed by an individual.

What this debacle shows is that the issues of faith and multi-culturalism cannot be confined to company policies as outlined in the staff handbook. Instead, they go all the way to the boardroom, and require engage­ment at the highest level. Indeed, there is a paradox at the root of the issue. The more Britain, and its organisations, proclaim adherence to diversity, the more individuals will demand the right to self-expression in the workplace. And this will not necessarily be restricted to matters of faith or credo.

All organisations, especially those with a public face, risk appearing clumsy and insensitive, and at worst could alienate customers.

There will be those who dismiss the Battle of the Cross as just another BA case study to file away with the notorious ‘ethnic tailfins' calamity (and plenty of others).

But other comms departments, for that is where such problems end up, should not draw comfort from that. They need to get senior management to take this issue seriously. Otherwise they risk a similar PR fiasco.

Danny Rogers is on holiday

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