A crisis is an unplanned event. It happens overnight without any warning or clue. That is why it is important for a company to have crisis management plans in place in cases of emergencies. Different kinds of crisis require different methods of problem-solving, which is why companies should establish various plans to tackle different scenarios. Companies tend to evolve in terms of its business models, vision & mission, shareholders, and in many other areas; and as companies evolve, their crisis situations will follow suit. Hence there is a need to constantly revisit their crisis communications plan to stay on the safe side of the spectrum.
AirAsia is a low-cost airline based in Malaysia offering the lowest fares to more than 100 destinations around the world. It’s founder & CEO, Tony Fernandez, established the company in 1993, and has since expanded the business to its subsidiaries; Thai AirAsia, Indonesia AirAsia, AirAsia India, AirAsia Japan, Philippines AirAsia, AirAsia X, Thai AirAsia X and Indonesia AirAsia X. This low-cost airline definitely lives up to its slogan “Now Everyone Can Fly”.
However, 3 years ago, amidst the peak festive holiday season – Christmas approaching New Year, the airline faced its first fatal crash in its 11-year history on 28th December 2014. Flight QZ8501 that was en route from Indonesia to Singapore crashed into the Java Sea nearly halfway into its 2-hour flight claiming 162 lives including 7 members of the crew on board.
As soon as this happened, AirAsia employed effective communication strategies to tackle the situation. Here is what they did and what other companies should mirror if they happen to face a similar situation.
Distributed Detailed Press Releases Frequently
AirAsia carried out constant communication in the form of press releases to keep the media and the public informed on daily updates since the day of the catastrophic incident. On that particular day, AirAsia issued 4 releases to notify the public about the crash, to provide any new information about the victims, and whenever debris was found. AirAsia issued statements every time they identified bodies and whenever they could not carry out search and rescue efforts due to bad weather. The frequency of their press release distribution efforts demonstrated their determination and dedication towards this crisis event as they worked and communicated relentlessly. They distributed a total of 58 releases during this time (December 2014 – March 2015). Apart from the frequency, every press release distributed contained new and useful information. Their ultimate goal was to address this crisis in the best way possible, and that’s what they did.
Responded Swiftly & Identified Communication Channels
Following the predicament, AirAsia’s CEO Tony Fernandez started to address the unfortunate mishap by leveraging on social media as his means of communication. He took his stand as the face and leader of the company and claimed responsibility for the incident. As the spokesperson, he practiced open, honest and constant communication to the public not only through distribution of press releases but also via social media; Twitter and Facebook, to keep the public informed about the situation. His real-time communication strategy prevented rumors and assumptions from any third-party. He was the focal point for the company’s updates during that time of distress.
AirAsia also changed the color of its logo from the usual cheerful red to a more subdued grey to share feelings of grief and regret with the public in line with the disastrous event.
Worked Closely with Response Team
More than just carrying out his duties as a CEO and spokesperson of the company by compensating the affected families, Tony Fernandez also expressed his heartfelt condolences to them. Apart from just expressing how sorry he felt on social media, he empathized with the families of the victims by making a trip to Surabaya, Indonesia, with his team, where most of the passengers were from with the sole purpose of meeting the families of the victims personally to provide emotional support. He demonstrated humanity and genuine care by reaching out to the families. Through this initiative, he proved that “Actions speak louder than words”.
Took Responsibility & Took Action
Instead of playing the “blame-game” such as blaming the bad weather for causing the crash, AirAsia employed a strong attitude to go head-on with the challenging situation. AirAsia was proactive in approaching the crisis from the second it happened until the very end of the ordeal. The company and its spokesperson made available to the media as opposed to hiding or delaying distribution of information to the public. The company was determined to find out the cause of the crash and was willing to communicate openly and honestly to the public. The company took full accountability of the situation.
Kept Team In Check
AirAsia also provided its employees moral support by praising their efforts in trying to make the situation better. The management understood that it was important not only to address the public, but also its internal team who were working so hard to make things right.
During a crisis, every single step the company takes to address the situation counts. This vulnerable stage can either make or break a company even with the slightest mistake, even more so when the situation has caused the loss of lives. The company goes through intense scrutiny by the public and authorities as it is liable for whatever damage that it has caused. AirAsia executed decisive measures in its communication efforts, especially through promptness in feeding the public with latest updates on the crisis. The use of social media as a communication channel to maintain the publics’ trust and perception towards AirAsia was a good move. The crisis communication strategy that AirAsia adopted by leveraging on social media to complement the press releases is exemplary and a successful case study for many companies.
Christine Pereira is the Audience Development Executive for PR Newswire, Malaysia