Sunday, October 30, 2011

Qantas v Unions: Pot or Kettle blacker?

Regardless of the outcome, reputations will be damaged in the boxing match featuring "Qantas vs the unions".

It remains to be seen whether the pot, or kettle, emerges with their name more blackened.

Both the unions and Qantas are likely to suffer some tarnish to their reputation given actions by both mean they are failing to deliver on basic service, let alone the brand promise.

I'm not an aviation or union expert, but I'm fascinated by the public aspect of the battle. Here are some observations of how it's playing out and how the PR is being handled.


Qantas is actually pretty good at PR. They've always seemed to be great at getting their message out - quickly, cleanly and with great execution discipline, and in keeping with community standards.

Which makes it all the more interesting (what really happened behind the scenes?) that today's shut down has drawn a proper bollocking from Government. Normally such a bold and big move would have been discussed with government, and the subject of much behind the scenes consultation - all designed to avoid exactly the reaction they got today.

Now that the Board and CEO have gone with what one online forum thread describes as "the nuclear option" it will be interesting to see how good they are at crisis communication while on the offensive. And whether they have a PR adviser or firm on board, or internal folk, with the ability to steer through this with the least damage.

Because damage there will be...more on that later.

Qantas has just moved from "victim" to "aggressor" in the public psyche - not only because they have "gone nuclear" but importantly because they've just stopped serving customers. When your customers are families trying to reunite, people with medical issues and travelling tweeters, what comes next will fill PR, crisis management and stakeholder theory text books for some time to come.

And I say "crisis communication" when talking about Qantas because it is, by definition, the communication needed (and often not employed properly) when the issues threaten the very continuity, or fundamental value and sustainability, of the organisation.

The Unions

The union movement is also great at PR - not necessarily the kissing babies style community PR but that great sport of intensely fought campaign style media designed to win both the war and the battle.

When industrial action stops flights it's harder for the unions to stay on the right side of public opinion.

Now, Qantas have handed the three unions representing baggage handlers, catering staff, engineers and long haul pilots, a huge advantage - the big group of people (passengers) who are now as cranky with Qantas as the unions are.

Its an advantage unlikely to be wasted if tonight's Fair Work Australia hearing doesn't produce at least a ceasefire to enable all parties to cool down - and flight service to resume.

News media

The Sydney Morning Herald is running a good mash-up style news feed here, with webcam from Qantas's currently empty check-in areas, regular news updates, images and comments from passengers via twitter and email.

The ABC's coverage is similar but with far greater weight to images and cool inclusions like twitter sentiment (62% negative on Alan Joyce when I saw it) through storify.

Analyst Tom Ballantyne says it was Qantas's only real option. Maybe so. But possibly it could have been executed with better behind-the-scenes stakeholder engagement - and they'd be coping less of a public blackening now.

Tony Abbott's line that it's a national repuation issue was echoed by commentator Greg Sheridan. Sadly, thanks to the newly installed paywall around The Australian's content you'll have to pay to read the full piece.

Online reputation management

It would appear the Qantas team is somewhat under resourced, with tweets outbound but, as one SMH reader notes, no staffers responding to stranded passengers via social media.

Not a great triumph for brand management online. All very well to offer smart-alec comments from the side line but if I were working with Qantas on this I'd have strongly suggested a social media desk staffed by (in this order of preference) management or customer service people who are social media savvy, their PR firm or an outsourced call centre used to dealing with investors or upscale customers - and yes they do exist and can be deployed quickly. It's really not that different to the media desk and elevated customer inbound call capacity that's a standard part of every crisis management team.

BlueChip has a crisis management desk wired and ready to seats a dozen people in close (but not too close) proximity so that communication can be exchanged quickly, answers developed and signed off on the fly and the team acts as one. Why is Qantas's equivalent not given permission to go further than one-way - taking passengers at least on the return journey in social media?

All those sympathetic outbound passenger tweets by Qantas (had they happened) would have helped tip Alan Joyce's twitter sentiment (and more importantly Qantas's) back into the green.

I'm guessing that having bet the farm on this move Alan Joyce was more worried about other alligators in the swamp than his own customers.

And yet neglected, those cranky flyers could yet pay Qantas back horribly for failing to provide swift, helpful responses in the right medium ie the one customers are using to vent, ask for help or simply share their latest news.

That's the whole point of the democratisation of influence we've seen with the rise and rise of social media.

Too few senior people (Boards and leadership teams) in financial services don't yet appreciate just how far reaching the evolution of online communication is - and that yes, it does reach into the boardrooms and mahogany rows (or well-lit hot desks) of those formally in charge.

At least Qantas is tweeting...even if its only one way.

It's too early to call it for either party in terms of media and public sentiment.

If I had to guess I'd say media will call it as the online sentiment does, at least short term.

Events at Fair Work Australia may yet see Qantas hailed as a reluctant hero - fighting back only to secure their survival.

Either way it's a public example of how PR wars are now fought, and won or lost.

Financial services Boards, CEOs and senior management could learn a lot by watching it unfold online.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Flashback Friday

With the weekend now about ten minutes away I wanted to do something a bit unusual. And that's talk about us. Not me, mind you. Us. Otherwise known as BlueChippers. 

This week, as we've worked together to hit home runs for current clients, pitch to new clients and improve how we work, a few things really leapt out. So, at risk of having you see me as a a bit soppy, I want to pause, and to 'flash back' to some great moments for our team.

It's different here
Everyone says that when they're recruiting right? For example: "We're different. We do x, y & z for our people. We really care." And then by week three you're wondering how they even made that stuff up, let alone said it with a straight face. 

But here's what our people (not me!) say:

1. The values are real - respect, integrity, persistence, excellence - with actions behind them 
2. There are no politics
3. People tell the truth even when it hurts
4. You have a real opportunity to do your best work and to grow personally and professionally
5. We have fun and laugh together...

Although at midday today when we were all heads down, hands on keyboard you might wonder about that one!

A star team...not just a team of stars
"You know it's harder to get a job at BlueChip than it is at [insert name of leading investment bank here]" said a well known recruiter recently.

Well actually it might even be harder because not only do we hire hungry, humble and smart people, we are uncompromising when it comes to "fit". And by "fit" we don't mean a gender, cultural or educational background or personality type. We mean "fit" with our values. 

While we do unashamedly go after the best people in the market, we want to only work with other people we want on our relatively small "boat". 

People who say stuff like:

- "I don't want to delegate that to him/her because it won't give them enough challenge"
- "We can do this's how it might work"
- "So and so did a really good job on this" and (yes, it's true)
- "We shouldn't charge our client for that because..."

Doing our best clients get REAL results
When we're recruiting and an entry level candidate says "I don't want to do that fluffy kind of PR", they suddenly have our full attention. 

People who are already BlueChippers want to make a difference, do their best work and achieve a great outcome for clients.

They hate fluff, they loathe tactical-only campaigns, and they always want to understand the big picture. 

In many ways, while the recruiters think we're mad, BlueChippers are actually people who already work like we do. Our culture calls out to the right people.

They're people who want to do great work. And they are prepared to hear feedback in order to get better and better at what they do. 

So when something's not working, they call it out. To our clients, their colleagues or their boss. We call it (full credit to Patrick Lencioni) the "kind truth". One set of words to describe giving feedback to each other is this:

"Bad news does not improve with age. But the kind truth improves with observation". 

It hurts way less when the person giving you feedback cares, and has carefully observed what's going on for you. But still delivers exactly what you need to hear, knowing it might sting.

Valuing values
This week I've marveled at the ability, the team spirit and the talent here at BlueChip. 

But most of all I've been humbled by the evidence of our values at work. 

They power our team, they help us reach the stars for our clients, and they ensure we enjoy the time we spend with each other.

Above all, values help us all "be the best we can be".

Happy weekend BlueChippers - whether you work here yet or not!