US Airways, Michael Phelps: some watery lessons in crisis PR

Posted on Tue Feb 3 2009

Usairways-phelps

What do Michael Phelps and US Airways flight 1549 have in common? They're both recent cases of post-crisis brand management—the freshwater variety—that could have been handled a wee bit better.
  Flight 1549 ditched in the Hudson on Jan. 15 after taking a few too many goose feathers to the intake compressors. Phelps is the swimmer who can hold his breath just long enough to take a big gulp of bong air, according to that incriminating photo that hit the Web this week. OK, so, two brands, two big problems. Let's see how they both followed (or not) the two golden rules of crisis PR: 1) Admit wrongdoing with no excuses, and 2) Make serious amends—fast.
  Case 1: US Airways did issue solemn press releases (ones that, mysteriously, only referred to the "accident" and never once mentioned the words "water" or "river," but never mind). When it came time to making nice-nice to the passengers, though, the offer of first-class standby status, good until March 2010, seemed (how to put this?) somewhat low-tariff. As one survivor told the New York Post: "You're going to crash me into the water … and all I get is an upgrade?"
  Case 2: In a public statement, Phelps admitted that his November inhalation of loco weed represented "bad judgment." But then he used his age as an excuse: "I'm 23 years old" and acted "in a youthful and inappropriate way," he carped. (No doubt, dude—but you've got $100 million in endorsements at stake.)
  Fortunately for Phelps, there's still a little time. "I would like to see him tell his fans, many of whom are children, that he made a big mistake—and he should mean it," veteran PR man Sam Chapman tells BrandFreak. "The key to successful crisis communications is being authentic."
  Put that in your pipe and ... y'know.

—Posted by Robert Klara

What's the name of the airline whose plane landed in the river?

Posted on Fri Jan 16 2009

Us-airways copy

Is it USAir or US Airways?
  The full name of the airline behind flight 1549 is US Airways, but that hasn't stopped a few from referring to the brand as USAir. What's the difference? USAir, created in 1979 by the Airline Deregulation Act, was the carrier that gobbled up several others in the 1980s, including Piedmont Airlines and Pacific Southwest (not to be confused with Southwest Airlines). In 1996, the company changed its name from USAir to US Airways (note the new space between the S and the A).
  It's not surprising that consumers over, say, 30, still think of the airline as USAir. (If you type in the usair.com URL, it sends you to usairways.com.) Is the shortened name a sore point with the company? Perhaps. Asked if the company minded being called USAir, a rep from Moses Anshell, the airline's Phoenix-based ad agency, replied: "Just call them US Airways."

—Posted by Todd Wasserman


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