Matter Chatter

In PR, Timing is Everything. Just ask Qantas.

Qantas Airlines has a lot going on these days – most notably, a recent employee strike that has caused many delays and inconveniences for its customers.  Let’s face it, a strike is always going to be a public relations nightmare, and this case was no different.

What IS different is that Qantas seemingly decided to operate “business as usual” on its Twitter handle.  So what did they do? They created an “innocuous” little contest encouraging followers to Tweet their dream in-flight experience, using the #qantasluxury hashtag, for a chance to win a pair of Qantas first-class PJs and a toiletries kit.

During any other time, this contest would have come and gone without much fanfare – especially given a pretty lame prize.  But, due to its terrible timing, it incited many customers who were impacted by the strike to use the #hashtag and vent those frustrations.  In fact, #qantasluxury quickly became a trending topic in Australia.  Sadly, Qantas decided to basically ignore the onslaught of criticisms with a (paraphrased) “Keep those creative entries comin” type tweet two hours into the contest.  Needless to say, the contest and the brand received a lot more attention for the incident – from both consumers and news outlets – than they bargained for.

So, what happened?  Did the Qantas public relations team think that this would be a good way to get back into the public’s good graces? Are Qantas’ public relations, crisis communications and social media team operating separately? Or was this just a horribly timed coincidence that wasn’t given much thought?

Whatever the cause, it’s a great reminder that timing can literally make or break a customer relationship, a brand’s perception or, yes, a “simple” campaign.   There are a lot of lessons to be learned on this one – what did you walk away with?

  • John Bolyard

    I’m not a PR professional so I’m wondering if there is any upside to this social media fail?
    Is “any news” good news or will this tarnish the Qantas brand.

    How could Qantas turn this into a win?

    Love to hear any thoughts!

  • Mandy

    Hi John,
    It’s a good question, but not sure there’s really any way to turn this into a win. The way they could have turned it into “not so terrible” would have been to quickly see the response, acknowledge the mistake and address the issues that were far more pressing head on. They could have tried to find a way to use social media to repair some of the damage that was done as a result of the strike vs. acting like nothing had happened. The “good news” is, they have nowhere to go but up with the social media savvy who are rightfully on top of their actions. Now they have to find a way to make amends.