Since 4 August 2016 an Australian company called QuantumCIQ has been retweeting a story written by them praising Emirates social media response to the crash of EK521.
On a near daily basis for the last two months both the company and its co-owner have tweeted the following with a link to their story:
What leaders can learn from Emirates airlines #EK521
Emirates airlines communicates confidence during # crisis
Two months on and they keep trying to sell the same nonsense. The only conclusion that I can arrive at is that Emirates must be a p.r. client of the company. I have asked the company this question directly – they have not responded,
Just a quick reminder of the event. Flight EK521 from TRV to DXB made a normal approach to runway 12L around lunchtime on 3 August. With a tailwind the airliner appeared to be landing long; the crew started a go-around and to retract the undercarriage. But the airliner never had the thrust for a go-around and fell back onto the runway, skidding on its belly to a halt.
In a chaotic evacuation, where over half of the slides could not be used due to wind, water or slide failure, the cabin crew safely evacuated all passengers and crew. Sadly, one firefighter died as a fuel tank caught fire.
The story as written by Quantum follows. It is sycophantic at best; misleading at worst. No comments were allowed on the story so my comments are in italics within their commentary.
“How Emirates Airlines turned their social media feeds into a crisis brand newsroom during the EK521 incident
Written by Quantum CIQ Managing Partner Nicole Matejic; who along with our Aviation Industry Adviser Steve Baker has experience in managing high-stakes issues and crisis communications in the aviation industry.
As the investigation into Emirates Airlines flight EK521 continues to determine why the Boeing 777-300 caught fire on landing at Dubai International Airport yesterday, those working in high stakes industries and leadership roles should be taking notes from the airlines’ exceptional handling of its communications during this crisis.”
The airliner did not catch fire on landing; it crash landed. “Exceptional handling” is high praise. “Capable” would be a better assessment. Remember this accident occurred in working hours at the airline’s home base and in full view of the corporate Emirates office. It would be hard not to have the facts to hand. Indeed the social media team could watch the accident unfold without leaving their desks.
There were also pictures and video very rapidly on twitter from third parties at the airport which meant that Emirates had no option other than to respond to news that had already broken.
“An multi-award winning airline, Emirates ability to navigate through crisis to recovery and soon, back into business as usual has been an impressive display of how well planned crisis communications strategies can be delivered with leaders and teams who have been well prepared.”
It should be a multi-award winning airline; not an!
Back into business as usual is simply not true.
There were in fact days of delays and a week of missed and lost baggage. Quantum have argued that they were only commenting on events on the day of the crash. But the real story of the incident is as much about the aftermath as it is about events on the day. There were many angry and frustrated people over the weekend who appeared to get no support from the airline.
In the weeks after the accident there has also been a remarkable lack of news from the crash investigators or other parties connected to the crash. Boeing for instance have been silent; despite concerns on how the plane responded to the intended go-around. A preliminary report by the GCAA investigation team was issued a month after the accident. Neither the GCAA or the investigating team have held any form of press briefing.
The QuantumCIQ commentary was issued on the 4th August, the day after the accident. Quantum simply had insufficient evidence to state that the airline went from crisis to recovery and rapidly back to business.
By turning their social media channels into an immediate crisis brand newsroom, Emirates established itself as an information authority on platforms that enabled them to communicate their trustworthiness and humility. This is a savvy move in retaining control over a narrative that could be quickly overrun by speculation and misinformation in the absence of strong leadership and appropriate information transparency.
See below for notes on Emirates social media reporting on the day. Their first tweets mis-stated the number of passengers on board. Other information was kept to a minimum.
Emirates handling of this crisis is a lesson for everyone in how to maintain consumer trust and effectively convey empathy, humility and authority in a high stakes environment.
The following days showed very limited empathy for people who were affected by the fall-out from the accident. There has also been very little said internally or externally about the accident. Silence is golden has a real meaning.
Here are 5 key takeaways form their crisis response:
EMIRATES AIRLINES COMMUNICATED IMMEDIATE ACTION.
Emirates swift implementation of their organisational crisis communications plan was evident as flight EK521 sat wrecked and billowing smoke on the tarmac at Dubai International Airport. There was no delay in communicating known facts, and then continuing to update stakeholders through a well deployed series of Facebook updates, tweets and video.
Quantum of course is making an assumption that EK has an “organisational crisis communication plan.” If they have inside knowledge of that plan it should have been revealed in their article.
Emirates mis-stated the number of souls on board – a key piece of information that should have been correct.
EMIRATES AIRLINES COMMUNICATED PRECISELY THE INFORMATION THAT WAS RELEVANT TO ITS STAKEHOLDERS WITHOUT DELAY.
No overarching statements about their organisational history or aviation safety record.
No lengthy press statements that were hard to find on their website.
Just straight up facts about the incident, the details they had available and what they are doing for their most important stakeholder: their passengers.
AND all this information was everywhere you’d expect it to be should you go looking for it.
Here are Emirates tweets from that afternoon taken from the Quantum report so the time stamps are on Australian time.
The first tweet was some 20 minutes after the crash and simply said that an incident had taken place. The news had already broken from third parties on twitter.
The second tweet was one hour after the crash. This is hardly immediate. Remember they could see this from the Emirates office. This tweet simply restated the earlier tweet that an incident had occurred.
The third tweet is factually wrong. There were 300 passengers and crew on board.
The fourth and fifth tweets say nothing about the incident itself. Holding messages conveying absolutely no information.
The first two media statements on facebook merely restated the tweets shown above – and similarly were inaccurate on the number of souls on board.
I do not see anything here that is immediate or precise.
There are also information gaps: type of airliner for instance is very relevant to two key stakeholders in the airline – Airbus and Boeing.
Now in fairness to Emirates they do have a well resourced and extensive social media presence. You would expect these networks to be used to communicate in the event of an emergency. And you would also expect that the airline has a rehearsed crisis management plan. So yes, competent as they should have been. Exceptional – no.
Subsequent tweets not mentioned by Quantum corrected the souls on board number – and then, and this was the piece of information that we all wanted to hear, reported the successful evacuation.
Emirates can confirm that there were 282 passengers and 18 crew on board. #EK521
We can confirm that there are no fatalities among our passengers and crew. All passengers and crew are accounted for and safe. #EK521
We are expecting a 4-hour network wide delay, more information will be available on the Emirates website and social media channels. #EK521
The main priority remains with those involved and offering support to concerned family and friends. #EK521
Emirates can confirm that #EK521 has been involved in an operational incident upon landing at Dubai Int’l Airport.
EMIRATES AIRLINES DEMONSTRATED CONSISTENT LEADERSHIP THROUGHOUT THE CRISIS AND NOW RECOVERY PERIOD.
H.H Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group demonstrated consistent leadership by investing in the 24/7 news media cycle from the outset. By being the face of the organisation during a critical incident H.H Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum demonstrated timely corporate responsibility at a critical trust juncture for the company. H.H Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum’s delivery of high stakes leadership acumen should be a lesson for leaders in organisations around the world because it allowed Emirates to feed the 24/7 news media cycle with copy-link-play content. This is a testament to their appreciation of not only their audience and the news media but also the totality of the information domain.
Lots of irrelevant information here.
Worth adding that the airline’s President was away from Dubai; it was August; a number of the senior management were not in Dubai.
HH Sheikh Ahmed held one single press briefing. Among his roles he is:
President Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA)
Chairman Emirates Airline and Group (including dnata )
Chairman Dubai Airports
This was a solo press briefing without additional representation from Dubai Airports or the GCAA.
In more open jurisdictions there would be separate press statements from the airline, airport operator, regulator and the city authorities. One person cannot talk about everything; but that is how it is done in the UAE. The press briefings after the Asiana crash at San Francisco would be a good example. Asiana Airlines Flight 214
The NTSB Chairman Hersman stated in respect of the Asiana investigation that “The information we’re providing is consistent with our procedures and processes … One of the hallmarks of the NTSB is our transparency. We work for the traveling public. There are a lot of organizations and groups that have advocates. We are the advocate for the traveling public. We believe it’s important to show our work and tell people what we are doing.”
Compare that to the response of the GCAA. The UAE authorities through the GCAA threatened imprisonment to anyone leaking pictures of the incident. See these twitter messages:
#GCAA warns all residence in the #UAE to stop abusing social networks by publishing videos, news or pictures of aviation’s accidents.
— GCAA UAE (@gcaa_uae) August 4, 2016
Sharing such practices is considered to be irresponsible and disrespectful to the victims, and is punishable under #UAE law.
— GCAA UAE (@gcaa_uae) August 4, 2016
Speculation was actively discouraged. The local media was suitably compliant. So the only rumours were basically official rumours which included:
Leaked captain’s roster with 29 hr layover, but the FO and CC roster were and have remained private.
Leaked FO’s name but the captain’s name remained private.
ATC recordings were available online.
Favourable commentary on the cabin crew performance was supported. Comments on what might have happened on the flight deck were discouraged.
This confusion of responsibilities is not unusual in the UAE. It was also a little too late; pictures were circulating widely and the UAE’s own media had many pictures of the crashed airline in both newspapers and online.
Back to the Quantum report:
EMIRATES AIRLINES CONSISTENTLY DEMONSTRATED CRISIS GRAVITAS FOR THEIR MOST IMPORTANT STAKEHOLDER: THEIR PASSENGERS.
At the forefront of all information communicated during this crisis, Emirates has remained steadfastly committed to prioritising its attention and concern for those passengers and crew aboard EK521 and their families.
EMIRATES AIRLINES HAD A THOROUGH CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS PLAN IN PLACE AND A TEAM TRAINED TO DELIVER IT.
It is evident from their polished, deliberate investiture in the use of social media to create a crisis brand newsroom that Emirates Executives and their staff had prepared strategically and trained tactically for organisational crisis.
Much of what you see in their statements, tweets and posts would have been words, talking points and statements pre-prepared for exactly this kind of incident. Apart from obtaining passenger manifests and flight details, very little leg-work needed to be done to produce this body of work leaving the communications and public relations team to concentrate on matters of passenger and crew safety and media relations.
Emirates understands what a bad day in their business looks like, and yesterday was very nearly a catastrophic example of the depth of their understanding of their organisational risks and the essentiality of planning for crisis communications. While all passengers and crew survived the incident with few injuries reported, in a sombre reminder of the risks first responders face when saving the lives of others, firefighter Jasim Issa Mohammed Hassan died during the aviation rescue operation.
In what is perhaps the most sombering lesson arising from this incident, is the dignified way Emirates and Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum have communicated this tragedy to the world. While the focus of the news media remains on the investigation into why the plane caught fire on landing along with stories of the passengers and crew who survived, time has been taken to remember firefighter Jasim Issa Mohammed Hassan as hero who died saving the lives of others.
His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, offered his condolences for the firefighter who was martyred while attempting to put out the fire.
“We would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of firefighter Jasim Eisa Al Beloushi. May God grant his family and relatives solace and patience,” tweeted Shaikh Mohammad.
“As sad as we are over the passing of Jasim, we are also proud of our youths and their sacrifices while performing their duty in saving lives and rescuing people. The UAE has men that many generations can be proud of.”
Yes. But the very appropriate response of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum needs to be separated from the social media commentary from Emirates Airline which is after all what this report was supposed to be about.
At the heart of this is something more obvious. Emirates is state-owned. The media is heavily regulated. The response to the crash was all about best managing the brand image not just of Emirates but also of the city through it’s response to the crash. The following day the Gulf News headlined “Dubai succeeds again.” The story was not how the crash could have happened but was about the successful evacuation; comparing the safe outcome to the New Year’s Eve fire and evacuation at the Address Downtown hotel.
On twitter Quantum continued to promote their story: on August 28th they wrote: “#Aviation industry leader take note: this is how exceptional #crisiscomms is done in an emergency – #EK521”
I immediately responded: “.@QuantumCIQ So exceptional that there has been silence from all stakeholders for over 3 weeks. Time for a rethink. #EK521”
An ex-Emirates pilot commented in response to this exchange: “Easy if you threaten every employee involved with termination and deportation.”
Does an Australian based business believe that exceptional crisis communications is the outcome of intimidation and the control of media and social media outlets.
In such an environment it is difficult to do anything other than maintain a cautious silence.
I was and remain delighted at the safe outcome. As well as saddened by the loss of a firefighter’s life.
The subsequent silence is a bit chilling. The cabin crew, for instance have not been named, they should be given the freedom of the city and the recognition that they deserve. The status of the two pilots is also not known. There have been no further media briefings.
Indeed there will be no further updates until the final report is produced. There are a few rumours. Nothing that can be reported here. It is almost as though the accident never happened.
Well done Emirates cabin crew; your performance was remarkable and deserves loud and public acknowledgement. As for the rest…..adequate. Whatever their PR firms tell you!