Tony Fernandes’ personal touch a lesson in crisis comms

Until today, the search for answers continue for AirAsia flight QZ8501 flying from Surabaya to Singapore which led to the loss of 162 lives. In the midst of it stands group CEO Tony Fernandes, who just yesterday sent out a letter to AirAsia customers for their support.

In the letter, Fernandes stated the past few weeks have been the “most difficult weeks” of his life since starting AirAsia 13 years ago. He also said he “wanted to reach out and thank [customers] for the warmth and support given”.

“Your messages of love and encouragement strengthen our resolve to be better. We will continue to provide updates as the investigation goes on. Rest assured, we are committed to reviewing and improving our products and services,” he stated in the letter.

Since the tragic incident, Fernandes has also actively taken to his Twitter account to provide updates on the flight search plans which has led to many PR professionals lauding his commitment to being transparent to the public.

(Read also: Should CEOs tweet?)

“In terms of AirAsia and Tony Fernandes himself, I think they have done an excellent job. Their response has been swift and comprehensive. Fernandes’ personal touch is befitting of the AirAsia brand and of his high-profile as CEO,” said Scott Pettet, vice-president of APAC at LEWIS PR.

He added both Fernandes and the AirAsia brand have used social media very effectively to communicate at every juncture and have stuck to the facts and have not been drawn into conjecture despite some of the early misreporting on the tragedy.

“At the outset, Fernandes said,‘I am the leader of this company. I take responsibility’ – all he has done since then is live up to this statement. I think like most people, I marvel at his energy and emotional authenticity – it’s impossible to keep those up if you’re not being sincere,” said John Kerr, the managing director of Asia at Zeno Group.

He added yesterday’s personalised message was a continuation of a “nonstop stream of authentic communications” since the tragedy unfolded.

Kerr also added that right now, Fernandes was the AirAsia brand and the company’s ability to quickly rebuild trust after this crisis would be led and defined by his leadership.

While most brands and CEOs could surely pick up a tip or two from Fernandes’ savvy social media ways, Kerr was quick to add that no CEO was actually going to suddenly turn on a social channel during a crisis and suddenly be successful in communicating in the same way.

“Fernandes is rewriting the text book for how leaders should act during a modern-day crisis and has been a social media leader for years. Successful CEOs will be proactive in building personal credibility and strong peer relationships online – and hope they never have to manage a crisis such as this.”

(Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)