Many may think Malaysia Airlines has featured in the news enough over the last year. Nonetheless, it seems that the carrier is intent on continuing to court controversy. After two deadly disasters in the last six months, the airline this week launched its new social media activation, ‘My Ultimate Bucket List’. There was an immediate barrage of criticism, attacking the company for poor taste in launching a campaign that asked customers what they want to do before they die. After the initial outcry, the airline changed the language of the campaign, from ‘Bucket List’ to ‘To-do List’. However, this was not sufficient to stem the accusations of insensitivity, and yesterday the company withdrew the campaign altogether.
From a reputational standpoint, there is inevitably a risk for any airline in deciding when and how to re-enter positive communications and campaigns after a tragedy has happened. It is important for long term corporate health and growth for a company to be seen to move on from a time of trouble. However, customers and influencers are only likely to accept and endorse such a company move if it is executed in a sensitive manner that demonstrates understanding and learning from previous events. Even when the open wound of a crisis begins to heal, the scar can remain visible for months or years afterwards, and this should be a consideration in the tone and content of all communications.
When the crisis phase has passed and a company embarks on reputation rebuild, this is the time when crisis counsel can deliver most value. The company and its agency network may begin to develop new creative approaches, but all external content should be reviewed in advance for vulnerabilities and challenges. A part of the company’s learning from a time of crisis should be reflected in the future path it treads between creativity and caution; the path between ‘Why not?’ and ‘What if?’
Malaysia Airlines has made a small mistake, which has resulted in nothing more than a glitch compared to the major tragedies it has encountered in recent months. The airline was quick to realise its mistake and has acted quickly to change and withdraw the campaign. Moreover, when judging a company’s post-crisis behaviours, we should also remember that any company will have a natural propensity to draw a line and try not to look back after a serious problem. Major tragedies take business leaders out of their comfort zones and it is counter-intuitive to re-engage with former crises once the storm has passed. However, businesses with a genuine desire to learn and recover should keep one eye on its previous problems to ensure it can mitigate future challenges before they arise.
David Carter / Head of Issues & Crisis