Are you impressed by BA’s nine out of ten?

Following the PR disaster of the opening of Heathrow airport’s Terminal 5 in March, BA is feeling brave enough to boast about its performance in a move to rebuild its reputation. 

Apparently, yesterday nine out of ten flights left on time?  That might be an honest figure, but is it impressive?  Will anything but a 100% performance change impressions already formed abut T5?

BA’s chosen strategy for changing perceptions isn’t one of using public relations, but advertising.  New ads are being created daily focusing on the previous day’s performance and the experiences of real people.

The airline claims it didn’t want to set up “emotional promises” and observes the “T5 is working” campaign provides an opportunity to be open about how it is resolving problems, should anything go wrong.  The campaign is conceived by BBH, part owned by Paris-based Publicis Groupe.  The public featured in the ads have signed a legal waiver allowing the images to be used.

The new campaign has been criticised for reminding the public of the initial problems, but it is unlikely BA’s reputation would be improved by ignoring the impressions that have been created so far.

Interesting, Abigail Comber, head of BA’s marketing communications, is quoted as saying

after 6m people, 46,000 flights and 132 days had passed, it was time to “change the perceptions people may have had about Terminal 5 in the same places they had read about it . . . by building on the facts.

But the original problems were reported in editorial, not advertising.  And, although there is considerable coverage of the new campaign – this is not providing third party endorsement of the improvements, just mentioning the marketing strategy.

The reporting of the ad campaign also includes reference to the initial problems, with little evidence that journalists have subsequently had a more positive experience of the airport themselves. 

What is most likely to change public perceptions is having personal good experiences, or hearing directly from others you know and trust who have not had any problems.  I’m not convinced public opinion is influenced by stories of “real people” featured in an advertising campaign.  It just lacks credibility and any independent word of mouth.

Advertising just isn’t the right medium to rebuild a reputation and create trust.  The public know it is a one-sided, paid-for message that is carefully crafted to convey a particular impression.  We are too cynical today to believe someone is doing well just because they select statistics and case studies that tell the right story.

There seems to be little real online chatter about things being better – and for example, the third item on Google for a search of “T5 is working” brings up news of baggage problems

The real way to ensure there is change is to be giving everyone using T5 a magnificent experience, that surprises and delights in such a way everyone’s expectations are exceeded and they pass on the word themselves.

I’m sure there are other initiatives underway to target key influencers.  For example the airline is reported to be taking 2,000 travel agents through the new terminal before Christmas to show them how things are working.   Again, this might be helpful, but what we really need is a genuine buzz about the performance of BA and T5. 

And I think that means more than a nine out of ten performance.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.