How Lufthansa Got Crisis Communication Right

This piece by The Drum features interviews with PR experts who weighed in on how Lufthansa handled the crisis communications portion of the recent Germanwings crash.

The following are excerpts from The Drum’s interviews:

1.) Mark Borkowski, founder/head of Borkowski PR

“So when Germanwings crashed into the Alps on Tuesday, Carsten Spohr - the head of Lufthansa, the German carrier that owns Germanwings flipped into crisis mode.

He was well aware, because of training, all eyes were on his leadership. The systematic by the numbers response, triggered a series of effective actions, mobilising the networks invested in, to manage the deepening crisis. It was a well-built framework that allowed the spokesman to provide a message structure sealed with simple consistent clarity against a noisy backdrop of news-driven rumour and social opinion.

Despite pressures from all sides, Spohr was concise, clear and employed consistent messages which achieved cut through. Employing a range of proprietary psychological archetypes, he displayed the diligence required at the heart of crisis planning. The response was by the book; by allowing a pertinent interpretation of the facts he was rationally not emotionally resonant.

I was impressed by his ability to project a stoic inner strength - a balance of empathy and corporate diligence. The full text book was on display: speed of communication, factual content of messaging, trust and credibility, empathy and caring, competence and expertise, honesty and openness. The ideal level of commitment and dedication required to address all the issues of the catastrophe.”

2.) Jane Wilson, managing director, MHP Corporate Affairs

“Other airlines and US air regulators have been quick to issue statements and airlines across the world are publicising changes to their rules regarding two crew members being required at all times in the cockpit. In the UK, the CAA told national operators to review their procedures. Lufthansa are not addressing the cockpit issue directly at this time and sticking to their statement that this was an unforeseen, tragic event saying “We are trying to deal with an enigma. No systems could prevent such an event” They have made no comment on changes to their cockpit safety protocols and they continue to reassert their position that Lubitz underwent the same stringent testing that all their pilots do.

For now, there is no reason to suspect otherwise but one senses that the international media are resolutely pursuing all avenues to test this position. It’s likely that details of the nature of Lubitz’s absence from training will become public as these things often do either formally or informally and Lufthansa will no doubt be prepared in their response. Their reputation will ultimately hang on whether they follow other airlines to review cockpit security protocols and more importantly whether they can provide evidence that this was in fact a truly unforeseen, tragic event that no procedures, protocols or testing could have avoided.”

3.) Marke Lowe, co-founder, Third City

The tragic irony of the Germanwings disaster is that an impregnable cockpit designed after 9/11 was used by Andreas Lubitz to shield his own unspeakable malice. Safety was cause but not effect in this case.

No one wins from these situations and it’s distasteful to imply that they should be ‘handled’. But an airline can’t go silent after a tragedy; its leaders need to show empathy, the most human of qualities.

On this, Lufthansa has done a creditable job. “Safety in aviation is not a given” said its chief executive in a YouTube address, suitably pitched. Could he have said more? Perhaps, but shots of scattered wreckage quickly make his point redundant.”


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