Using Employee Narrative to Defend Corporate Reputation: Southwest Airline’s Flight 1380 Crisis Case Study

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light more than ever the need for public relation practitioners to have the proper skills in crisis communication management. While this has always been known to experienced practitioners, it makes the case for those new to the industry to see if they need more knowledge and training in this area.

One of the ways to gain more knowledge is looking back at the past and learning from these case studies.

As a part of Ball State’s online master’s in public relations curriculum, students are required to take leadership courses — one being dedicated to case studies. The work completed by our students not only builds their critical analysis skills of how professionals handle public relations issues in global, digital and ethical contexts, but also provides an opportunity for recognition.

Two of my graduate students won third place in the 2020 Page Student Case Study Competition for their case study, “’Nothing to Hide.’ That’s Southwest. Navigating Crises Fast and Well With Human Stories in the Era of Misinformation.”

The case study took a deep dive into Southwest’s response to Flight 1380’s mid-air emergency, where the aircraft’s left engine exploded shortly after takeoff, causing the plane to plummet toward the ground. Shrapnel from the explosion broke through a passenger’s window, creating a vacuum that sucked her body halfway out of the plane before other passengers could pull her back inside to administer CPR. The crew managed an emergency landing, but the incident left one passenger dead and eight others with non-critical injuries.

Already known for its mission of “Transfarency,” Southwest maintained their core principle of transparency throughout the entirety of the crisis. During and in the immediate aftermath of this crisis, the airline remained transparent with its public, regularly communicating updates regarding the situation via press releases, Tweets, press conferences, sympathy letters, videos, inspection updates, compensation packages and blog posts.

After the incident, crew members and passengers of Flight 1380 were featured on various media outlets as a part of a media tour. Through the stories shared by crew and passengers, a narrative of faith and trust developed in Southwest’s messaging. These reputation tactics are only a few examples of what helped the airline recover from the crisis and gain back the public’s trust.

Studying how corporations and organizations respond to the public during times of crisis can provide a way to diversify your skills and critical thinking in your current and future public relations career. Employers are always seeking candidates with these sets of skills. If you think you may need more education or experience to help further your career, consider pursuing your master’s degree.

Ball State’s master’s in public relations is entirely online, so you can continue working while earning your degree. What you learn in our courses can be applied to your career the very next day.

Interested? Apply today. Applications for the 2021 Spring semester are due January 5, 2021. Use the code PRMA2020 before December 31, 2020 to waive the $60 application fee.

 

 

Dr. YoungAh Lee is an associate professor and Graduate Studies Director in the Department of Journalism. Her approach to public relations emphasizes the role of reputation, believing that businesses succeed best when they align their communication and business goals.

To learn more about Dr. Lee and Ball State University, visit the university’s Department of Journalism.

LinkedIn: Dr. YoungAh Lee

 

Who’s the New Girl?

“Show me an intern who never made a mistake, and I’ll show you an intern who stayed an intern.”

If someone hasn’t already voiced this sentiment, then I’ll take the credit for it. As a new intern at a small PR agency, I’m fortunate to have made my requisite Big Mistake. It was simple really, I printed something for a press kit on the wrong letterhead. But rather than calmly assess the mistake and set about the business of rectifying it, I had a little freak out moment. In earshot of an AAE. “Stop freaking out,” she snapped. “We’ll just print up some more letterhead, no big deal.” That would have been my solution to the problem in about 5 minutes, after I had finished my mini-spaz. But evidently, my snafu didn’t even warrant a full minute’s hysterics.

What I took from the experience (and what’s the point of making glaring mistakes if they don’t come with bonus lessons?) was not to keep my mishaps a secret. But to keep calm and carry on. As an intern, I’m expected to futz up a few things. But as a professional, I’m expected to rationally assess the situation and reassure those around me that there’s a resolution forthcoming or gain their assistance on how to go about correcting it. Disproportionate reactions inspire suspicion and mistrust. You don’t want to be known as the girl or guy who gets knocked off track by every paper cut. I’m pleased to say, composure regained, I set about the task of fixing the letter head and the press kit got out without further incident. My chant of “OMG! OMG! OMG!” was perfectly acceptable–as long as it stayed in my head.

Toni V. Martin is a freelance journalist making the transition into full-time public relations. She is currently interning at a full service PR firm outside of Atlanta. She is originally from Detroit and has her degree in English from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. She can be reached at tonivpr@gmail.com

Some Advice on Job Hunting From One New Pro to Another: Setting a Salary Range

Recently, I accepted a wonderful new position and gave notice to my previous employer. Everything went very well and I was asked to assist in the hiring process for my replacement. I prepared myself for the difficult task of sorting through resumes and agonizing over a hundred people with the perfect qualifications to fill my position. I was ready to carefully consider nuances in presentation and to weigh one person’s experience against another. As it turns out, the process was much easier than I had ever imagined.

At least 50% of the resumes were discarded almost immediately because of salary expectations. As for the other 25%, more on that later…

Advice Tidbit #1: How to Set a Salary Range
First of all, if they ask for your salary range, give it to them (after careful consideration of course). If you don’t, your resume could get passed over for others who are able to follow directions and have salaries in the company’s range. The way to successfully give a salary range is to consider both your own worth and the level assigned to the job by the hiring company. For instance, if the position is listed as an “entry level” position, you should have a clue as to their salary range based on other jobs in your area. If you are job-hunting in my area (Cleveland), you should know that a basic entry-level salary is much less than $50,000 -70,000. If the salary listed in your cover letter is more than $10,000 (or even $5,000) too high, your resume may be headed for the circular file. Here are some tips on the dreaded “please include your salary expectations” request:

Just Do It – Sure you don’t want to take yourself out of the running by giving a salary that’s too high or too low, and it may be tempting to leave it off altogether. Stop and just do it. If the company asked for it and you don’t give it, it may look like you don’t/can’t follow directions.
Always Give a Range – go from the lowest you would possibly accept to a little more than you would expect. If you give an appropriate range, you can always ask for more based on what you learned about the position in your interview.
Never Lie (to the employer or yourself) – Don’t lowball them to get an interview for an entry-level position hoping that they will increase the salary for “the right” candidate (you). You’ll end up seeming dishonest if an offer is made. If the salary is too low for you, it’s not the right position anyway.
Pay Attention to the Position Description – you know what your current job pays, and can look at the national averages on the PRSA website. If the position description says entry-level or junior – or director – you will have a good idea of a general range the company might expect to offer.
Consider the Company – a small nonprofit will have a completely different salary range than a large corporation or a prestigious agency. Consider the size and prominence of a company when setting your salary range.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short – If the title, responsibilities listed and company sound like they fit with a $50,000 salary, and you are qualified, then ask for it. If the company throws your resume to the side because your expectations are too high, the position is probably not worth pursuing.
Be Flexible – Sometimes saying that you are flexible or that your salary is “negotiable” is a way to get a phone call even if you are out of their range. It doesn’t hurt to add it if, even after research, you don’t have a clue what the range might be.

Setting the perfect salary range for you and the company you are applying to is truly something of an art, but it’s an art worth mastering. Researching the company, reading the position description carefully and knowing the industry averages can not only help you set an appropriate salary, but can help you make the best decisions regarding your personal worth and avoid positions that don’t offer fair compensation for the level of experience and responsibilities. I hope to follow-up soon with another article based on my recent hiring experience, and in the meantime, best of luck job hunting!

Julie Cajigas is the president and owner of Inspired Copy & Communications, LLC, in Cleveland, Ohio. Inspired Copy & Communications, LLC provides freelance copywriting, ghostwriting and freelance public relations. She can be reached at Julie@InspiredFreelancer.com http://www.inspiredfreelancer.com.