“Never seen Heathrow so empty”


Heathrow received a lot of press coverage this week so everyone should be rubbing their hands in glee. After all, there’s a trite old saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Well, as some at Heathrow this week may sadly learn, that’s a slight over-simplification.

Before Wednesday, the day of industrial action in protest at planned changes to public sector workers’ pension arrangements, coverage focused on the fact that flights could be disrupted because of uncertainty over how many staff at the UK Border Agency would join the strike.

Fear of long queues in the immigration halls of the world’s largest international hub meant coverage on broadcast and papers all over the world. Despite this, disruption at Heathrow became a non-event. Although some carriers cancelled services, Heathrow had one of its smoothest running days ever after some Heathrow staff covered in immigration after receiving basic training. Tweets in the “never seen the arrivals hall at T3 so empty” vein were in abundance.

So the reputation of Heathrow and UK plc was helped but how about the picture some now have of the immigration staff? We heard that they were demonstrating their views on changes to pension arrangements. What we got was a picture of how their work obligations were still being delivered despite the strike. In other words, the cynical might ask, “Why are you worried about pensions when your job could be being seen as non-essential?” As important as pensions are, most would prefer to see their work portrayed as vital rather than optional and have a job rather than no job.

It’s important to have a profile but remember that every individual message, whether direct or indirect, contributes to how punters see the whole picture. The fact that the airport functioned without full staff sent a message that the level of employment was a “nice to have” rather than a “must have”.

Another old saying about losing the battle but winning the war is as true in communications strategy as it is anywhere.

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