Increased levels of scrutiny have driven Qantas to become more transparent than ever in a bid to protect its reputation and preserve the trust of the Australian public.
Speaking at the Event and Exhibition Association Australasia conference last week, group executive brand, marketing and corporate affairs Olivia Wirth identified the growing challenges for the airline amid the rapidly changing media landscape.
“The change that’s occurred in the last three years like nothing else I’ve seen and we expect that rate of change to continue,” she said.
The shift, which includes the emergence of social media and citizen journalism, is having a significant impact on companies across the board.
“It’s leading to more scrutiny on companies, leading to more transparency and more at stake for companies,” Wirth said.
“Trust has become more important than ever.”
Maintaining that trust is no easy task, however. With aviation a “complicated sector with many moving parts”, there are many things that can go wrong – some within the airline’s control, but many outside it. These can be events like SARS, volcanic eruptions, issues with security and challenges in the Middle East which can impact flight paths.
Being true to brand is an important way to weather the storm, according to Wirth, along with the implementation of a well-researched crisis management system. The airline considers the impact of every move on reputation and brand. Ensuring the airline is swift to join the conversation via social media platforms is also an important way of influencing the outcome, she continued.
But Qantas’ high profile can complicate things even further. Its “iconic” status and 95 years of history mean that the majority of Australians has an opinion, and often one that they are willing to share.
In addition, images taken of and aboard their aircraft make great “clickbait”, something which can work in the airline’s favour as in the case of the Qantas, Emirates A380 flyover at Sydney Harbour in 2013 to mark the start of their strategic alliance.
But the same clickability can also work against it, with challenging incidents including the “Lakes on a Plane” burst water pipe aboard flight QF94 from Los Angeles to Melbourne in July 2014 which was snapped and shared by passengers aboard the aircraft.
As a result, great emphasis has been placed on reputation and brand management within the company.
“The reputation of a company is very much linked with trust,” Wirth said. Furthermore, the airline’s valuable relationships with the vast numbers of passengers it carries each year makes that even more true.
“We’re not an airline, we’re actually a service brand. We’re not a transport company – that’s not how we see ourselves. From a cultural perspective we very much associate ourselves with those in hospitality industry.”
And beyond its passengers are a whole range of other stakeholders, which range from shareholders to media, to staff – all relationships which also thrive on trust.
Wirth stressed the airline will never issue “no comment” on an issue – that would go against the approach they have put in place.
However, she admitted that the airline had needed time to adjust to the new status quo.
“It’s taken us a while to get used to the level of transparency that social media has brought to the company,” she said.
The airline used to have a policy that restricted staff use of social media, something which it has now eradicated.
“It is simply no longer feasible to ring fence around your employees and say don’t communicate,” she said. “We needed to realise there are more people than can have an impact on our business than previously did, and that’s because of social media.”