The News Chair
  1. American Airlines vs. United Airlines: How to Do Crisis Communications, and Not

    April 27, 2017 by Christopher Lloyd

    By now I’m sure most everyone in the Western hemisphere has seen the video of a United Airlines passenger being forcibly removed by police officers. It was literally the hottest story in the world for a few days — in no small part because of UA’s utterly inept response to the outrage and their poor crisis communications efforts.

    My guess is that you’re probably much less aware of a similar incident that happened a week or so later on an American Airlines flight. It contained elements that could potentially have made it as big a viral outrage as the UA one: a burly male flight attendant allegedly ripped a stroller away from a female passenger holding a baby, hit her in the face with it, and then tried to taunt a male passenger who confronted him about it into a fight.


    Leaving aside the seemingly obvious question of whether or not airlines should be in the practice of physically assaulting paying customers — why was the UA incident a huge story, and the AA one was not?

    I’m convinced it’s because United took days to figure out a coherent messaging strategy in response to a 60-ish doctor being bloodied and roughed up for refusing to give up his seat. For starters, the situation was repeatedly described by UA executives as “overbooking,” which is a hot topic for fliers annoyed about getting bumped from flights because the airlines routinely sell more tickets than they have seats.

    Once people finished getting angry over that, it was revealed the incident resulted not from overbooking, but because UA needed to transport four employees to another city so they could be available for their own flight the next morning. They soon amended their story.

    Somebody at the United PR department probably thought that was a fabulous move — but it backfired. Then the story became about the airline assaulting a passenger so his taken could be taken up by an employee. Frying pan to fire, indeed.

    I have family in the airline industry, and they correctly point out that if those four employees didn’t make it to their destination on time, an entire flight would have to be canceled instead of just a quartet of passengers losing their seats. The FAA has very strict rules on how much rest pilots and crew must have before a flight. But it just doesn’t translate well.

    Think about going to a store after being lured by a hot deal, and being told the customer in front of you had bought the last item in stock. You’d be disappointed, but probably not angry. Now imagine being told the last item was just sold to another store employee using their discount. Flames of rage!!

    The capper was United Continental Chief Executive Oscar Munoz referring to the situation — in which the good doctor sustained a broken nose, broken teeth and a concussion — as having to “re-accommodate” some customers. It quickly became a top trending hashtag on Twitter. Munoz’ family will no doubt find that unfortunate phrase in the first paragraph of his obituary.

    After several days of meandering statements, UA finally apologized for the passenger’s treatment and is reportedly negotiating with his family over a sizeable settlement.

    Meanwhile, American Airlines executed a virtual textbook response to their crisis:

    • They acknowledged the lapse in stark terms: “We have seen the video and have already started an investigation to obtain the facts. What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers,” UA said in a statement. “We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident.”
    • They took action to compensate the injured party. The woman’s family received an apology and was upgraded to first class for the rest of their international trip.
    • They promised to investigate the matter and take action. Within 20 minutes of the flight landing, the attendant was removed from duty pending the outcome of that investigation. I can’t imagine that ends with any other outcome than him waiting in an unemployment line.
    • They maintained a consistent message that was conciliatory. Even though the woman was in the wrong for trying to bring a double stroller on the flight — something clearly in violation of American Airlines rules — the airline never tried to blame her for their employee’s violent overreaction.
    • They responded quickly. Keep in mind, all of the above happened within a few hours of the AA video going viral.

    No doubt the American Airlines PR team had seen what happened over at their competitor, and were primed to react to a crisis in an organized way. It’s always a good idea to have a crisis communications plan in place, and update it every few years. Have a plan of action, identify those responsible, and train them on what they’re supposed to say and do.

    And while you’re at it: when inevitable disputes arrive with customers, try not smacking them in the head.

  2. Diana Zukerman heads up business development for Coles Marketing

    March 17, 2017 by Christopher Lloyd

    Coles Marketing has tapped Diana Zukerman to head up its business development and outreach, building on recent success that has seen a number of notable companies joining the firm’s client base.

    Zukerman has deep roots in Central Indiana’s business community, and will use those contacts to bring awareness to the marketplace about the expanded capabilities of Coles Marketing. Over the past year, the firm has staffed up with new talent in Google Analytics and AdWords, copywriting, social media expertise, web development, digital marketing and app creation.

    Zukerman most recently was co-owner and sales director for Sophisticated Living Magazine Indianapolis, where she substantially increased ad sales every year. Before that she held several positions in the fashion retail industry, including as sales representative, store manager and buyer.

    She holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing and fashion merchandising from Indiana University. Zukerman was also an active volunteer with the Christamore House Guild for several years.

    “Integrated marketing firms are always urging clients to tell their story, but fail to adequately share their own. Diana will help us get the word out on how we can bring value to new customers,” said Coles Marketing President Barbara Coles.

  3. Coles Marketing bolsters digital ad services with Christy Stewart hire

    March 1, 2017 by Christopher Lloyd

    Coles Marketing is expanding its digital advertising services with the hiring of Christy Stewart, a veteran Digital Advertising Specialist and certified Google Partner in both AdWords and Analytics.

    A Ball State University graduate with bachelor’s degrees in advertising and public relations, Stewart began her career as a media buyer working with traditional print and broadcast outlets before segueing into digital starting in 2007. Within the digital advertising realm, she has experience with search, display, remarketing, ad networks and social media.

    Stewart has led traditional and digital ad buying teams working at the national, state and local levels, including hyper-local campaigns that target a specific geographic radius or zip code. She has created advertising strategies for major companies across a broad spectrum of industries including healthcare, education, automotive, utilities, lawn and garden, power sports vehicles, leisure destinations and agricultural.

    She also has experience in traditional, co-op and direct response advertising.

    Her Google Partner badge (formerly known as Google Certified Professional) indicates that Stewart has demonstrated expertise in AdWords and Analytics, met spend requirements, delivered agency and client revenue growth, and sustained and grown a client base.

    Google Partners like Stewart have passed a series of exams demonstrating AdWords/Analytics skill, and have access to Google’s beta features and applications – allowing exploration of new tools before they hit the marketplace.

    “Christy’s impressive credentials and proven track record of digital advertising outreach will help take us to the next level in the scope and depth of services we can offer to clients,” said Coles Marketing President Barbara Coles.