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CAA: Airport Marketing & Public Relations, "Airport PR Helps Wary Travelers Cope"

Monday, January 21, 2002

Airport PR Helps Wary Travelers Cope
PR News

Ken Capps serves as vice president of public affairs at Dallas-Ft. Worth
International Airport, the third-busiest airport in the world. Sept. 11
was the last day of status quo operations at airports nationwide - and
Capps' first day on the job. He spoke with PR NEWS about his unique
initiation and how proactive crisis management has helped travelers and
employees alike since the terrorist attacks. 

PRN: You literally began your job on Sept. 11. What background did you
have that helped you hit the ground running that day? 

KC: The most important thing that helped me that day [was] my experience
as a reporter. I was a major market television reporter for 15 years and
had covered a number of different tragedies, from mass murders to plane
crashes. I understood what the media needed and how to communicate
effectively with them. I had also handled a number of crisis situations
during my four-year tenure at EDS - the technology services giant.

PRN: What did you do that day? 

KC: The most important thing we wanted to do was to get out as much
information as possible regarding the airport's status - "news you can
use" information. If you have somebody at the airport, here is what you
can do. If you have someone flying in, here is what you can do. There
was a lack of that type of information on the national level, and as a
result there was a lot of chaos. We didn't do anything fancy, but we did
deliver rapid and accurate information [through] regular news
conferences, emails to reporters, and our DFWAirport.com Web site. 

PRN: What were your priorities in the following days and weeks? 

KC: We wanted to show people our thought leadership when it came to
airport security. We have since done opinion editorial pieces, radio
news releases, video news releases, all giving people "how-to"
information about how to navigate an airport after Sept. 11. 

We also had a very aggressive campaign over Thanksgiving and Christmas,
using all different kinds of media, to get the word out about the best
way to travel. We took it down to literally the call-hold message that
we have at the airport. So if you call the airport and get put on hold,
the message you hear gives you the same information and tips. 

PRN: What did internal communications entail? 

KC: The most important thing we did was to use our intranet to get out
literally a daily news bulletin on things that were happening at the
airport. Also, about 30 percent of our workforce is in places like
maintenance and they don't have access to the Internet, so we were
publishing an actual daily newsletter from Sept. 11 to the end of that
month. We would print it at night in our graphics department and roll it
out in the morning. 

PRN: What kind of Sept. 11-related communications are still happening? 

KC: Number one is the [federal] Transportation Security Act and the way
the airport is responding to that, both from a security standpoint and
from the passenger-convenience standpoint. In the coming months there
will be big changes in how airports look, and so we are trying to be
proactive and aggressive in telling people what to expect before they
get here. 

[To make this happen effectively] we have been trying to gauge what our
passengers are thinking and craft our messages around that. Our
marketing department did a survey in November of passengers and found
that 90 percent felt our security was equal to or better than other
airports. More than 80 percent said their wait times averaged 10 minutes
or less, which we really took to be a credit to the communications we
had telling them what they could bring and how to get through the lines.

PRN: What else have you learned about operating in crisis mode? 

KC: Sometimes you have to really step out of your comfort zone. 

In this case, we have had to communicate things that are sensitive from
a security standpoint, without giving away secrets. We have been working
to implement a facial-recognition program. We will start piloting that
project in mid-January, and we wanted to get that information out to our
customers, without giving away so much information that people figure
out how to beat it. Our public affairs staff works with the security
people, and together we decide what we can and cannot say. 

Airport PR in Crisis: What worked? 

   * Real-time "how to" info on the Web site

   * Close cooperation with HR and marketing

   * Multi-channel outreach, down to the level of the airport hold

   * Candid disclosures regarding security efforts

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