Thai Airways cover-up puts reputation in a tailspin

As PR consultants, we often have to deal with sensitive issues. 

What may seem trivial to most can provoke the most exaggerated reactions in customers, stakeholders and, most importantly, the media.

There are two main rules of issues and crisis management: 

1. Always prepare for every eventuality.

That means ensuring you know who will be your spokesperson, your messaging is consistent and that you are swift with your response.

2. Never ever try to cover up something that you have done. 

As US Presidents, corporate CEOs and many others have proved over the course of history, denying something you have been a party to in any way only whets the appetite of media and makes you look more guilty when the truth is exposed, as it invariably is. 

How you deal with a crisis is almost always more damaging that the problem itself. 

So while everyone hopes that they will never have to deal with anything negative, the fact is, the world is not perfect, people make mistakes, systems or mechanisms fail and individuals and organisations have to take responsibility and learn from their problems rather than hide from them.

Those are lessons Thai Airways could well heed after a tough couple of weeks. 

One of its planes recently hit turbulence on its way to Hong Kong, injuring a number of passengers.

That was followed by a malfunction of its landing gear in Bangkok with more than a dozen people taken to hospital.

These incidents are not something Thai Airways should be proud of, but by communicating on social media and hopefully vowing to ensure additional safety testing and procedures will take place, potential customers will not be too alarmed by the problems that have occurred. 

But Thai Airways went further, covering up their plane logos on the stricken jet in Bangkok, projecting the story to wider audiences and damaging their reputation far more.

Any action like this provokes suspicions that a brand is putting profits and reputation before its people - when the safeguarding of the passengers should have been all that mattered. 

Thai Airways claimed that this was standard practice and meant to protect other Star Alliance partners - though most of us would not even made the association with Star Alliance until the airline mentioned them. 

Star Alliance denied these claims and any attempts to protect the Thai Airways brand were dashed given that plenty of images of the plane were available before its logos were covered up.

Hopefully the airline and anyone else trying to protect their reputation by covering logos will realise what a huge mistake this was.

Be open, be honest, learn from your mistakes. 

That's the key to crisis management and something Thai Airways would do well to heed.