Camera in hand, my good friend Chikodi Chima went to Philadelphia to find out why beards are so prevalent on African-American men there. The result was this video, which the the Philadelphia Weekly just bought!
Last week there was a lively conversation on Twitter discussing brand marketing in social media and how to meet the need for transparency in that medium.
There was a terrible amount of soulless PR jargon in that previous sentence, but it's over now. Sorry about that.
At any rate, that Twitter conversation turned into a very interesting blog post by Rick Liebling of Taylor PR, featuring commentary from Saman Rahmanian of Crispin Porter Bogusky, Warren Sukernek of Radian6, and myself. Give it a read:
Many of the news stories in the first few days (before the crew had been interviewed) hung on a similar set of key points. Successful water landings are extremely rare, a parade of aviation experts told us. Though air traffic control had suggested it, the aircraft had neither the speed nor the altitude to return to LaGuardia or carry on to the small airstrip at Teterboro.
The press corps decided quickly (and reasonably) that the overarching narrative coming out of the story was going to be heroism of the pilot, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger; these and other talking points supported that narrative quite ably.
From a PR point of view, there's nothing quite as potentially damaging for airlines and aircraft manufacturers than a crash. Taiwan's China Airlines famously painted over the logo on one of their crashed aircraft in 2007. Manufacturers in particular are in an interesting position: you and I will never purchase one of their products, and the average consumer probably can't name one of them, but their success depends on public trust as much as any household-name car manufacturer or food brand. A series of crashes in the late 1970s led the FAA to ground every US-operated DC-10, creating a PR nightmare for McDonnell Douglas, who saw many orders for aircraft from their entire range cancelled. You can imagine then, that Airbus, the manufacturer of Flight 1549's A320 aircraft, had their crisis PR people working overtime as soon as news of the event got out.
As I was reading reporting from different outlets on Thursday and Friday, there was one
other emerging talking point beyond just the grace under pressure of Captain Sullenberger - one that stuck me as being too
consistent across the board to be a coincidence. This was "the ditch
Almost every piece I came across early in the news cycle mentioned this feature of the A320. This CBS News piece is representative - it explains the ditch button as a control that "seals the underbelly of the plane to make it more buoyant", thus allowing the passengers and crew more time to escape before the plane sank to the bottom of the Hudson. The ditch button gets similar treatment inNewsday and Popular Mechanics. In the Times of London, the ditch button is even specifically called out in an infographic that ran in the Saturday edition.
To my mind, the near-ubiquity of the ditch button in media coverage of the accident has the fingerprints of an effective PR campaign by Airbus. In the hours after the crash, reporters are reaching out to US Airways and Airbus representatives to get their side of the story. The ditch button is a feature unique to the A320 family of aircraft - many aviation experts (such as the ones in this NYT piece) didn't mention it, especially early in the news cycle, perhaps because they were not themselves A320 pilots. After details from the flight crew's interview with the NTSB began to surface on Sunday, it became known that the pilots hadn't even activated the ditch button; as it was late in their pre-ditch checklist and they ran out of time. For me, this is just more evidence that the ditch button's prominent place in the narrative came from Airbus, filling in the gaps of knowledge in the first few days after the accident.
Prior to the release of the crew interviews, reporters had a very limited resource pool to turn to for information: eyewitnesses, aviation experts, government agencies, US Airways, and Airbus itself. Airbus made the most of this opportunity by highlighting the significance of the ditch button and achieved a measure of control over the way media told the story of the accident. Instead of "Jet crippled by birds", the story (at least in part) became "Clever engineering save lives".
In some ways, the ditch button became almost as big of a hero as Captain Sully. The button became such an important talking point that it was being repeated by non-media all over the web: commenters on Gothamist, and the New York Times, Twitter. This aviation blog delivered a line that must have made Airbus's media monitoring people do a backflip: "All you Boeing fans out there -- do they have something similar on Boeing aircraft?"
From the United Press International: SILVERADO CANYON, Calif., Jan.
11 (UPI) -- A California father says he discovered his 13-year-old
daughter sent 484 text messages per day last month -- one message every
2 minutes of every waking hour.
I run UK & EMEA digital strategy for Cohn & Wolfe during the day, and I make iPhone games with Hard Six Games in my spare time. Nothing you read here is the perspective of Cohn & Wolfe or any of its clients. You can email me at fdrizo at gmail dot com.