Thursday AM January 22nd, 2009

A major brand found itself in the middle of a big story with a happy ending after the forced landing of a US Airways flight in the Hudson River. Ed Mayberry reports.


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image of United Airways 1549 sinking in water

No one was killed.  The airline apparently wasn’t to blame—the finger is being pointed at geese.  The pilot and crew are seen as heroes.  Airlines are prepared to deal with public relations after accidents having bad outcomes, but accidents with the best possible outcomes present a unique situation.  Todd Wasserman is Editor-in-Chief of Brandweek.

“I talked to a few public relations and branding people and asked them was there anything like this where there was a big sort of media spectacle that turned out to be overall a happy event where there were, a brand was so closely a part of it.  And no one could come up with anything, so you could point to it and say, you know, US Air, seems like they train their people well.  They definitely responded well in this situation.  Sort of a positive association.  It’s not something you saw in advertising.  It’s something that they, you know, earned.”

US Airways appears blameless, and the airline is reaching out to passengers rather than being defensive.  Each one is receiving $5,000 for lost luggage and fare refund.  But Wasserman says you can’t really brag about an accident.

“Maybe run an ad honoring the pilot, or something like that.  But anytime you go out there and advertise, you know, ‘we’re safe or this or,’ you know, you’re asking for trouble, ’cause all they need is, you know, for one incident to kind of besmerch the whole idea.  This was news.  It was something that was part of, you know, the reality of that day in way better than advertising for this company, which really didn’t do a lot of advertising anyway.  If you’ll look, they only spent about $5 or $6 million a year the last two years, which isn’t that much.”

Wasserman says US Airways needs to leave this moment alone, without trying to capitalize on it in any way. 

Ed Mayberry, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.

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