The wonder behind every successful enterprise does not only lie in its technical and mechanical division. The promoting and public relation association that is the front face, of a particular organization is one of the keys to its success in the long run. When it comes to conducting, organizing and handling any situation from its best to worst and keeping the enterprise active, they are well trained and learned of the tactics.
In this particular case study, an elaborated compilation of pros and cons, causes and effects of the PR role is discussed, along with appropriate concept and theories. It also involves one of the blazing examples of the Doctor David Dao incident. A doctor by profession and a family man, removed from the flight in inappropriate manner, on his way back home.
It portrays how a well-known airline company experienced a sudden downfall and how the PR association could act in order to cover up for the company’s losses.
Reasons behind occurrence of flight incident of United Airlines:
A single incident has scratched a huge mark on the repute rank and position of the renowned company, United Airlines, overnight and has brought forward how the PR responses and management plays a crucial role in the up liftmen of a company. The incident of forcefully driving out a respectable family man and a doctor by profession from one of the flights of United Airlines went viral in a blink of an eye, all over the social networking sites and media.
According to Van Ruler (2015), it is true that, there have been several fact-findings or reasons coming up behind the disastrous incident that has occurred, on the April 9th. The man was deprived of the transport service in an incorrect manner. United airline was alleged by general public and experienced a sudden downfall in their reputation drastically. As a matter of fact, there are specific rules and regulations of refusal of service to a customer, based on exceptions and emergencies, which could be followed by the management or higher authorities of the company. The rule is called the Rule 21. The PR response violation was immense and the mistreatment of one of the passengers made it more evident by bringing it into the light.
Some of the reports states that, Dr. Dao was refused service as the company’s own crew wanted to travel. The Doctor was an eligible passenger, entitled to his seat in the flight and occupied his space only after the completion of all the required formalities, while some states that, the man was involved in illegal activities apart from his original profession and used the flight as the mode of the inappropriate business.
As mentioned above, that the PR response play as a mediator between the company and its customers, when it comes to such situation. Hence, in this particular case, the stand of a well known company is at stake, the reason being the same. As stated by Johnston (2014), United Airlines was receiving questions from all over for acting against its own policies.
PR team acts almost as the crisis management team and covers up for last minute chaos but the PR response from United Airlines kept the mass and the media ignorant and doubtful.
The first response from the authority seemed to have overlooked the expectation of the people waiting to hear from them. They appeared to be off the edge and vague compared to the curiosity and eagerness of the public. The motive of keeping the company reputation safe as much as possible by improvising PR strategies and tactics could be prioritized.
It is also evident, that they could have been aware of the power of the social media and technology that people are using today. The complete incident was captured by several travelers in their smart phones, i-pad and tablets.
Ways by which the company handled the above-mentioned issues
The most important problem in the world of the public relation is referred as the issues. In this case, the issue of a negative image of the airline is hampered because of the passenger David Dao who was violently fisting by the officer. The company tackled the issue of the violation of the passenger with the settlement as well as set an investigation regarding the tackling of the passenger that found there are multiple mistakes and there is need of appropriate cooperation. As asserted by Taylor & Kent (2014), there are some internal policies as well that help for treating the people with immense dignity. The company has set some new rule from controlling this kind of situation. The employees of the company will be given the responsibility for providing the solution regarding this situation in order to make the passengers safe till the final destination. This can also include the booking of the passenger to another airline or make away to send them to another airport. In the company, the passengers are referred as the centre of importance so to make them safe is prior importance. The Airline Company is also engaged in removing the stress from the passengers while flying.
The step towards decreasing of this kind of issue is because of the outdated policies and procedures that focused more on the operations rather than customers. So, in order to control the situation are made new policies and procedures that have been more focused on the customers rather than the logistics as well as operations. As opined by Kent (2013), there is a requirement of more transportation options in terms of volunteering the customers towards their seats. Moreover, there is required some of the training for the employees in order to tackle the situation whenever it happened. The Airline Company decided to increase the voluntariness of the passengers as well as to create an automated system for identifying of the passengers those are willing to give their seats. Moreover, the company will reduce the overbooking of the flights.
The Chicago Aviation has apologised to the United Airlines regarding forcible removal of the passengers. The United Airline intended of not calling any security officer for the removal of a passenger. United Airline has suspended the officer for being violent to the passengers. In the opinion of Fall (2004), if the customers are satisfied then the image of the company will also increase but this kind of situation has worsened the image of the company. The investigation that was done made it clear that it was the fault of the company and it includes the calling of the law enforcement. The law enforcement makes it clear that if there is any kind of situation faced by the passenger then it is their right to take that person in front of the court for justice. The United has allowed the internal policies for distracting the needs of the passengers. The airline company has made a way that if the customer allows to give up their seat then they will be paid of $US 10,000 in the traveller certificate.
Aligning the issue with that of PR theories
The issue has been analysed with the PR theories of system theory and public relation and Grunig and Hunt’s PR theories that include four models.
Grunig and Hunt’s PR Theories
In this theory there are four models are referred in terms of judging as well as analysing the situation that is faced by the Airline Company. The four model re Press Agentry Model, Public Information Model, Two-Way Asymmetrical Model and Two-Way Symmetric Model. In the first model of Press Agentry Model, it is not applicable for resolving the issue of Airline Company. In the views of Hallahan (2004), it is clearly mentioned that it did not conduct any kind of investigation for resolving the issue along with that it manipulates. In addition to that, there is no scope for accuracy as well as credibility. In the second model of Public Information it does not consider the information to be accurate in respect of the audience.
In this model, it is mostly towards the falsehood rather than truth so it is not applicable for the case of United Airline. As asserted by Dodd, Brummette & Hazleton (2015), in the third model of this theory that is the Two-Way Asymmetric Model it focuses on the improving practice of the organization rather than the customer. So, to some extent, it is applicable because in the issue of the Airline it is required to cancel the practice but on the other, it is also required to notify the safety of the customer. At last, in the Two-Way Symmetric Model that focuses on dialogue, not the monologue. So, it is not applicable for resolving the issue that has been occurred in the United Airlines.
Figure 1: Grunig and Hunt’s PR Theories
System theory and public relations
The system theory helps towards looking of the organization along with that it is helpful for analysing as well as diagnosing the problems that are created. As opined by Rowlinson, Hassard & Decker (2014), this theory has four elements. The four elements are input, throughput, output, and feedback. In the first element that is the throughput give the information regarding the problems. This element is applicable for identifying the problems that are faced by the company. The Airline Company has done the investigation in order to find the problem. The second element which is throughput that is denoted as the information processing is applicable for solving the issue for Airline. The United Airline after the investigation has simply taken some of the measures for controlling the situation.
The output that is third element is used by the Airline Company in order to take some of the steps for safety of the people. In addition to that, the company has suspended those officers who have violently dragged Dr. David Dao. As per Liu, Bartz & Duke (2016), the fourth element is the feedback that is the response whether the issue has been solved or not. So, in this case, the issue has been solved. Hence, it is clearly seen from the two theories that one is totally not applicable for solving the issue of United Airline whereas, on the other hand, the second theory that is the System theory and public relations is applicable in terms of solving the issue.
Figure 2: System theory and public relations
There are researches made and strategies/tactics discovered over the years on the subject public relations and are set based on practical experiences. Unlike the early days, PR is vastly incorporated in university courses and chosen by students from all over. As the name suggests, mastering and maintaining it in the long run for any group or enterprise requires curiosity and specific skill sets. Making a good PR needs the right abilities. Concisely, it demands a perfect combination of soft skills, professionalism and knowledge in the specific field. Some of the significant skill sets that are mandate are what keeps the enterprise running, such as;
Setting the right expectations with the clients:
The issue with the United Airlines was mainly based on this factor. The overselling of tickets from their end and releasing it at the last minute pulled the trigger. It is evident, the elaboration of the incident that there was a huge fault in the planning and management, but could be handled by few tactics. Providing an immediate response to the passenger and apologizing as well as further proceeding with an action plan. The necessity of the presence of a top head or a chief person could help in order to tactfully handle the situation.
Irrespective of the situation, it is always necessary for the expert to be confident and transparent. Unlike the rest of the departments, the PR experts needs to directly connect with the public, press and also supervising the social media sites. They need to know how to be professional and polite at the same time, be upfront and stern when required, as they complete the end of the business thread. For example, as the top head of the United Airlines responded, the reaction of the public was dreadful. The reason being, that the apology for the actual incident was completely ignored from the company's end. A quick response and sensible communication with proper reasoning could aid the mass to be educated, feel valued and understand the company giving it a second thought.
Setting goals to maintain a long term reputation and goodwill:
There is no such need to run a social or goodwill sector in every company, but some still do it. It takes years to build a good image and brand in the ever competitive market. The more an enterprise expands, the bigger are the risks and needs advanced preparation. The airlines kept the responses vague. Steps like, organizing a conference in order to resolve the issue in the field by facing the mass, monitoring the social media sites and take minimum actions to decrease the violations, apologizing in useful ways, such as, providing compensation or help to the victim of the family and making a settlement thoughtfully, would cover up and improve the downfall of the company to a certain extent.
As discussed so far, apparently the PR team has to often blend into playing multiple roles depending on circumstances. It might often involve dealing with risk controlling, crisis handling, public rage and more. Apart from the above mentioned tactics some of the other strategies that can be utilized are effective communication and ownership, tackling the media attention in the right manner, identifying reputational risk factors and following the action plan accordingly.
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