Part of having a sound strategic communications plan is so that you never have to use your crisis communication plan. Certainly, the latter should always be at the ready, but viewed more like a life insurance policy – you never want to use it, but you always want to have it… just in case.
Boeing learned that lesson in WORST possible of ways.
By worst, I mean a LOT of people died.
When Boeing was debuted its newest plane, the 737 MAX aircraft, it touted the aircraft’s primary advantage over older models, namely better fuel efficiency. The promise did however come with a caveat. The higher efficiency would require larger engines be mounted higher on the airframe. This change would cause a change in how the plane flew, so a new computer system (called MCAS) was installed to autonomously control those new characteristics.5
Boeing’s communication plan did consider all their internal stakeholders (regulators, pilots, etc.) as well as external ones (buyers, the media) in informing them about the new efficiency, the engines and the computer system, they left out one detail: a safety measure (horribly ironic as you’ll see) that gave the computer authority to forcibly wrest control from pilots.
That is a HUGE failure already. Yes, your communication plan should include your internal audiences as well the external ones, but your messaging needs to be COMPLETE – Boeing was lying by omission. They even went so far as to have any mention of the computer’s control ability deleted from the pilot manuals!
Engineers may have been aware of the computer system’s full capabilities, but pilots and regulators were left in the dark. These engineers made incorrect assumptions about pilots’ knowledge and capabilities and lack of further communications culminated in two 737 Max planes, killing 346 people. Investigators concluded that “cockpit confusion” contributed to both air disasters.6
National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt stated, “Those assumptions were used in the design of the airplane and we have found a gap between the assumptions used to certify the MAX and the real-world experiences of these crews.”6
That statement was emotionally deficient—in fact, even tone deaf. The emotional intelligence of the brand comes across as immoral in the court of public opinion.
Likewise, the loss of life goes far beyond any reputational damage that was done to Boeing.
So, their Strategy included the obvious audiences: the media, their investors and business partners. But not to be neglected (or misinformed!) are your own people. Your messaging must be consistent, based on ALL the facts and communicated to all parties in the manner that will best suit and help them. Research gives you the full picture and you USE that full picture to form the FULL communication plan.
Did you know that is the real job of a corporate PR? To take the overall plan of management and figure out how to communicate it to ALL audiences to gain acceptance and action—and advise management when there is a situation in that process that needs to be addressed.
For any strategic communication plan to work as it should, different audiences are getting the same messages, but couched in terms and in ways that will be best received—and acted upon favorably.
If your service or product does have an issue, get in front of it with emotionally intelligent communication! You just might solve that issue before something truly horrible happens.
Make sure your own communication plan includes complete messaging for all your audiences. Sign up for a complimentary PR communications plan evaluation!