As Don Draper famously said in an episode of TV’s Mad Men- “If you don’t like what people are saying about you- change the conversation.” Business jet operators have a positive story to tell- and a conversation to change. David Heitman tells us how- and why doing so makes good sense.
Imagine how different things could have been in November 2008 when the CEOs of the big three automakers were asked why they flew their private jets to the Congressional hearings on government bailouts. Imagine if just one of those CEOs had said- “You’re darn right I took the jet! I flew it to maximize our shareholders’ investment in our company and to preserve our employees’ jobs. I’m saving time- getting work done while en route- and moving on to my next crucial appointment—something our nation’s broken commercial air travel system makes impossible.”
Such words could have changed the dynamics of the public conversation from that point forward. In fact- one strongly worded comment like that would have benefited the entire Business Aviation community and prevented many companies from doubting the value of aircraft ownership.
Following is a Field Guide for Reputation Management—Aircraft Ownership Edition. It is intended to provide high-level guidance for how an organization can be proactive and prepared in not just defending- but affirming its use of private air travel and aligning it with its brand. The principles apply not only to the issue of business jet use- but also to the entire spectrum of a company’s reputation in the media - social and otherwise.
THE POWER OF THE POSITIVE
To obfuscate or ignore a negative conversation is not the answer. It’s better to engage head-on the business proposition for Business Aviation- explaining how the company uses its jet to improve the bottom line. It’s crucial for a company that uses business aircraft to integrate this messaging into its larger brand story.
If a company seeks to build a brand that suggests responsiveness- resourcefulness- leadership and innovation- then the decision to utilize the company aircraft can be compellingly blended into that narrative. In this context- it is beneficial to translate the use of private air travel into two types of currency: jobs and shareholder value. Once people understand the economics of Business Aviation- they are able to see it not as a perk for the few but as a productivity tool for the entire company.
You can’t respond to what you don’t hear. Just as CEOs receive status reports on cash flows and productivity- they should likewise receive a regular synopsis of what employees- customers and others are saying about the company in the news and in social media outlets- as well as industry and flight crew forums. It is important to assign someone within the company’s marketing department- or an outside PR firm to carefully monitor and regularly report on this continuous online conversation.
You won’t need to respond to everything people are saying- but should pay attention to the authority of the commentator- how widely those comments are distributed- and the likely outcome of responding or not responding to what is being said. Sometimes engaging is the wrong thing to do- adding fuel to the fire. At other times- failing to respond communicates tacit agreement with what is being said. A sense of proportion and timing is needed.
One aspect of keeping an ear to the ground is knowing what unauthorized communications are originating from within your own organization. This may be coming from well-intentioned employees who set up a Facebook- LinkedIn or Twitter account. Many companies have multiple unauthorized social media pages- where unmonitored commentary can inadvertently hurt the organization’s reputation or even become a platform for dissatisfied employees and former employees. It is important to have only one- clearly identified- authorized account for each social media outlet. Delete all unauthorized versions.
A POSITIVE STORY TO TELL
As a counterpoint to the tough knocks that Business Aviation has received in the last few years- there are notable exceptions.
The airlifting of supplies and medical help to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake demonstrated the generous use of private aircraft by numerous corporations and the versatility of this form of transportation. That was a powerful- positive story to share with their stakeholders.
Further- when in 2009 Avjet Corporation was called upon by the White House and the State Department to fly former President Bill Clinton to North Korea to secure the freedom of the American journalists being held hostage- it validated the safety and effectiveness of nimble- secure- point-to-point air travel.
An oft-neglected aspect of reputation management is internal branding—the intentional effort to reinforce a company’s values and virtues among its own employees. Employees are the single-most powerful conduit of a company’s reputation. They are the ones who interact daily with your customers- prospects and vendors- and either reinforce or undermine your company culture. If they are able to articulate and embody the company’s brand virtues and key messages—including the role that Business Aviation plays in the company’s mission—then they become positive brand ambassadors.
As with individuals- a company’s reputation is its most valuable asset. That sounds like a trite cliché from some marketing seminar- but it’s true. All it takes is a hit to a company’s reputation for whatever reason—a product recall- an environmental disaster or a personal scandal—and stock prices plummet- market share declines and the ability to recruit the best talent begins to wane.
Thus- as a company strategically deploys its brand strategy- the way it utilizes its company aircraft can become part of a positive narrative and contribute to a sterling- well-managed reputation.
Do you have any questions or opinions on the above topic? Get them answered/published in World Aircraft Sales Magazine. Email feedback to: Jack@avbuyer.com