Earlier this year I was asked to comment on the preposterous action being taken by easyJet on some flights. The dreadful deed? Cabin crew were taking hand luggage off passengers just as they were about to board their flight.
This week I have been asked to comment on the news that easyJet has launched its "hands-free" luggage service whereby you can check your cabin luggage into the hold for £4 each way.
PR stunt or customer listening?
A cynic would call this a PR stunt. Those more generous at offering benefit of the doubt might give them a pat on the back for flipping a negative story on its head into something positive. The use of the incremental revenue employee to provide comment on the news could even be argued as this being a purely operational decision.
So which is it?
Burying bad news
If you check out the news results on Google for a search related to easyJet and hand luggage, you'll find a healthy stream of largely (early days) positive news stories about the story.
Adjust that search to find news about the kerfuffle about hand luggage and the hold earlier in the year and you'll struggle to find much.
Albeit a tad delayed what they've achieved, despite a rather public spat with Daniella Westbrook about this exact issue, is that they've pretty much buried bad news.
Time's a great healer
The problem: too many passengers are trying to travel with only hand luggage, to avoid hold luggage fees and waiting at bag collection carousels.
The big issue: there simply isn't enough space in the cabin to stow bag for every passenger in the overhead lockers (especially not when we're talking pull along suitcases).
The short term view: take bags off passengers at the gate at which point they have no choice (quite likely they'll have no insurance for what's in their hand luggage either, but that's another story). You'll take a thwack to your reputation, but what the hell, they'll come back for more and they'll learn for next time. Won't they...
The long game: develop a strategy that communicates an opportunity upfront to customers (via the media), gives them choices (buy hold space or risk having it taken away) and provides an accessible/affordable solution with 'added' benefits (apparently having less luggage will make security processing quicker and airport transition quicker). The outcome: a hands-free luggage option.
The art of storytelling. Or is it spin?
A good news story not only broadcasts or launches the new product or service, it also qualifies its creation. What easyJet has succeeded in doing here is both - hence why it made headlines and became a topic for debate today.
If they achieve any incremental revenue as a result, well done them.
Call it a win-win.
Tomorrow's chip paper
To anyone familiar with flying with low cost carriers, when this story broke in February this wasn't news. There were plenty of disgruntled passengers out there happy to share their stories. It turned out that having your hand luggage taken off you at the gate was fairly common practice, especially if you were towards the back of the queue. I saw it first hand on my way back from Malaga with easyJet in February.
And some would argue that the story ran for a while and, as with most news in our rapidly revolving world, died a death a few days later. They used to call it tomorrow's chip paper. But despite the pace of news nowadays, the legacy of a story remains online, largely. So to a brand that has reputation management as marketing metric or objective, there's only one option: to replace the bad with good.
While, since then, it hasn't fascinated news or travel editors, it has continued to irritate customers. Which means it will continue to be corrosive for the brand's reputation unless they find a solution.
Quite the turnaround
It's taken them about six months to deliver this idea from corridor conversation (or creative scrum) to a PR-able story, but they've hit the headlines all the same.
Turns out it was only easyJet. According to an online article in The Sun, Ryanair was playing the baddie too. So what will they do now...
What's lurking in your brand's closet?
It's hard to write a crisis comms strategy when you're on the inside. Trust me, I've been there.
I've also handled my fair share of journalists thrusting customer complaint letters down the phone or through email demanding an immediate response. It ain't pretty, but the more prepared you are, the less you'll panic and the greater chance you'll have of resolving the situation quickly and without too much noise.
Scenario planning forces you to face the possibilities of worst case scenarios that could result in the media hearing about and publishing a story relating to your company's involvement in 'a situation'. It isn't easy because few like to admit or look for those possibilities.
If you need an objective perspective and are serious about crisis comms planning, let's talk.