Lessons from Malaysia Airlines’ “Bucket List” Contest

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    Even easily avoidable crises don’t dodge themselves

    When we saw that Malaysia Airlines was holding a contest asking travelers which places were on their “bucket list”, our jaws just about dropped through the floor. Even in a company that’s proven to be insensitive to the feelings of stakeholders, this seemed an impossible mistake, yet here it was making headlines around the world.

    Even worse, after the negative backlash surrounding its compassion-less communication following the crashes of both MH370 and MH17, the airline showed it’s learned nothing, giving an apology best described as half-assed:

    “Malaysia Airlines has withdrawn the title of a competition running in Australia and New Zealand, as it is found to be inappropriate at this point in time. The competition had been earlier approved as it was themed around a common phrase used in both countries. The airline appreciates and respects the sentiments of the public and in no way did it intend to offend any parties.”

    What can your organization learn from this unbelievable error?

    1. Advance planning is great, but double-check before going live. It’s always good to plan ahead for events and promotions, but there’s no excuse for not checking to confirm whether your plans are still appropriate when it’s time to go.
    2. Always think, “What could go wrong?” If your communications send a different message or evoke emotions other than what was intended, you’ve failed. Take a few minutes to consider how you could possibly be misinterpreted or cause offense, and head back to the drawing board if you find an answer.
    3. Learn from past mistakes. When you screw up, people are going to talk about it, which makes it easy to determine what needs improving the next time around. Stakeholders of all kinds are surprisingly forgiving of one mistake, but continue to make repeated errors in the same vein and you’ll quickly wind up on the wrong side of a very vocal crowd.

    Crisis management lessons of communication are some of the most easily preventable crises out there. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and think, “How would this impact me?”. If you can really pull that off, you’ll always know what to say.