WEDNESDAY 22 DEC 2010 1:49 PM


Questions have been asked of BAA’s media relations stance after the airport operator sought to stem negative publicity by prohibiting broadcasters from filming within its airports – only to succeed in worsening the coverage.

The company which owns Heathrow has been at the centre of a media frenzy after Heathrow and other airports were closed due to the winter weather and long queues.

But when the company attempted to limit damaging coverage by stopping news teams from filming, major broadcasters including the BBC appealed directly to passengers for mobile phone video. The resultant footage – grainy and poorly lit – served to paint an even more dismal picture of the passengers’ plight.

Andrew Caesar-Gordon, managing director of Electric Airwaves said: “This was a prime example of poor media management. The attempt to control the news agenda demonstrated a painful lack of understanding of new social media realities.

"Instead of trying to influence the narrative by shepherding broadcasters around the airport and perhaps persuading them to film positive elements of the story, BAA ceded control to grainy mobile phone footage that the media picked to suit their version of events."

Likewise, Warwick Partrington, managing director of Media Training Masterclasses, warned against a blanket ban. "Hiding behind an unenforceable block on broadcasters is a vain attempt to step back into an era where news blackouts could hide bad corporate practices. BAA should be opening up and inviting the world to see how good they are at dealing with a crisis - even if their handling of the crisis itself could be improved. Having cameras around will also sharpen up their own staff's customer service skills and keep them on their toes."

Phil Szomszor, director and head of digital at Citigate Dewe Rogerson, pointed out that, far from reducing negative coverage, the ban “actively encouraged people to film [and] take pictures that they wouldn’t otherwise”. Meanwhile, Simon Sanders, head of digital at Lansons Live, pointed to the irony that “BAA are also making such citizen journalism possible by providing the means through their airport retail operations such as Currys and Dixons.”

The lack of communication from BAA, such as its failure to explain why it could open one runway but not the others, appears to have angered passengers the most. Crisis communications consultant John Huntley said: “BAA have delivered, but too late. It took them three days to say anything and that’s the problem.”

Analysing BAA’s crisis response through social media suggests that a concerted effort was indeed made, mainly through its Twitter feed. According to digital intelligence service Trufflenet, over 50 customer queries were being answered per hour. However, for the majority of passengers not on Twitter, these efforts would go unnoticed.