“Ratings have been disabled for this video.” That’s what Youtube says when you visit the Chasers’ grimacingly funny take on the dis-ingeniousness of Qantas. I really thought many times about the usefulness of this blog piece but, here I go, let’s dive in. Before the post-mortem, let me just state this is not an attack on Qantas. It’s a cry for common sense and honest communication. A warning to all those PR hacks working diligently on ‘key messages’ that are best left to shiny toothed travelling salesman.You see, people are too busy, too tired, and too inundated with marketing information. They lost trust in giant corporations and politicians a few decades ago. And they dream of quieter times (somewhere in the country) when people just told it like it is. While this underlying tension and disengagement has built, the internet has also made it easier to connect with people who feel the same and, well, vent. Unfettered, welcomed steam-letting that, thanks to the pervasive frustration, spreads like wild fire.

Attempts to gloss over hard truths with expensive advertising 0r lazy social campaigns will end up in disaster. That’s a fact.

So onto Qantas. Why don’t we feel guilty in our schadenfreude? Because we all feel that same frustration tempered by weariness every time we see another company try to pay its way out of dealing with the truth. Specifically, the flying kangaroo made a few critical mistakes. And then made more:

  • Full page ads of children with some – honestly – meaningless sub text in place of a well articulated description of the change story and its urgency. Dis-ingenious, presumptuous, condescending.
  • Grounding a fleet to fight a union – failing to predict the fact that the company was so successful in getting Australians to own the brand that its not surprising if they react when you trash it.
  • Social media campaigns centred around luxury in the middle of a crisis (#areyouseriousalan)

But these are just expressions of a few deeper problems with corporate boards and their advisors who are out of touch with the public, their opinions and how they organise.

Qantas is one of the last great Australian brands. We’re told to buy Australian, protect Australian jobs, but the credibility of that message just got shot to pieces. If our most revered brands can’t have a meaningful dialogue with the public they will fall – via political change, community action, or crippling industrial disputes (there will be only more sympathy for pilots and crew as the blunders continue).

The board says it backs the CEO and it is acting in the interest of shareholders. But destroying brand equity, making enemies of powerful populist politicians, undermining all customer relations and marketing activity – this costs many millions of dollars now, and also in the effort to claw back. It’s not good for shareholders (check out the QAN share price). It’s also not good for tourism operators, holiday makers, business people, and any one who ever felt a sense of pride in the flying kangaroo (which is just about every Australian).

The handling of the industrial dispute and the communication of change at Qantas has been textbook terrible.

What would we suggest they do differently?

  • Swap the ads of children on desert sands with an infographic outlining why Qantas has to change
  • Support ads with an interactive web portal that enables people to get answers to their questions
  • Ask anyone who is critical to do the same – use facts to explain their position
  • Do not ground planes to make a point and trigger a legal process – instead, keep putting the pressure on detractors to answer the problems facing all aviation companies, offer comparative wage costs, conditions, and other indicators to compare airlines worldwide with Qantas
  • Use social media to host video of the CEO explaining the strategy, support with genuine forums for answering questions and getting public buy-in. It worked for Toyota.

That’s a few ideas, without the privilege of any more information than what is in the public realm.

Issues management is not what it was. You have to work harder but the channels are more cost effective. We could buy a lot of social media resourcing for those advertising roadblocks Qantas bank rolled.

This has all been a bit negative, so let’s finish on a high note. The BS barometer is sensitive online. It’s making sure we seek credible sources of information and toss ideas around before we make a decision. That process is bringing us together and making us harder to manipulate. Not all the time, but more than in the past. It feels good.

Ellis Jones continues to develop issues management models that link on and offline comms, and make use of advanced technology.