MONDAY 15 MAR 2010 4:08 PM


As part of its communications offensive against Unite, British Airways have launched a viral social media campaign, with a video of CEO Willie Walsh talking of his disappointment over the forthcoming strike action from the union representing their cabin crew.

British Airways undertook a major comms cost-cutting exercise last year, reducing its global budget by 20% and consolidating its PR spend into the hands of Fleischman Hillard. Recently it called in to provide advice on social media strategy. Additionally, BA is also thought to have recently created its own internal video media unit. Despite this, the two and half minute video, well produced with the use of incidental music and b-roll footage, is believed to have been produced by’s team.

The video sees Willie Walsh addressing the camera face on with an open neck shirt and no jacket. Stuart Maister from video production firm BroadView often advises CEOs to go for this rolled-sleeve informal style. "It makes look Walsh look as if he has been interrupted while hard at work sorting out the problem. They’re right to get it out on YouTube – I hope they’ve made sound bites available for download and use by broadcasters.

Maister was less impressed by the colour quality. "Walsh looks grey and tired, while BA’s spectacular Waterside HQ looks like some dull office block in Staines. They’ve made Willie Walsh look like a downmarket union official. If UNITE produce a similar piece but with their people either out in the field or looking more vibrant and dynamic then the score will be 1-0 to them."

Others argue that, colour quality aside, the production values were too polished. According to Charlie Cannell, CEO of the business video communications agency Cantos “It’s possibly a bit too prepared. BA are in crisis communications mode and perhaps this isn't the right time for office shots and cutaways to planes in the air."

That's not to say Cannell wasn't impressed. "The overall quality is good, it was filmed on Friday, and broadcast the same day, so the speed to market was quick. It's certainly been managed well, but perhaps there was an element of over-production.”

Philip Allport from the BA corporate communications team defended the video. “This is the first time we’ve used YouTube to support our crisis communications” he said “We recognise how important social media is as a way to communicate directly to our customers.”

Additional social media channels were also used, with BA tweeting the video's existence on Saturday morning and again today. However, with only two retweets over the weekend and a further eight today, the impact could have been greater. "The body language one uses in the distribution is as important as the style and gloss of the presentation" added Cannell.

With the strike action expected to start this Saturday (March 20) the video has been released to coincide with an avalanche of news stories backing British Airways. With transport minister Lord Adonis telling the BBC he deplored the strike, Unite’s political director Charlie Whelan (and former advisor to Gordon Brown) cited as being “bafflingly silent” on the strike in the Wall Street Journal and even the prime minister himself castigating the industrial action as "deplorable", the conclusion for media observers is that here is a very well co-ordinated communications campaign.

Willie Walsh - a little too polished?