If only the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) had planned a strategic marcom campaign with the launch of its new screening procedures! All this hoopla, media coverage, and protestations may have been avoided. Air travelers would have been thinking of their approaching Thanksgiving indigestion and annoying relatives instead of deciding whether to opt out of new high-tech scanners in favor of pat-downs from TSA agents.
Let’s imagine what could have been:
- President Obama announces new airport security measures following the attempted bombing of a U.S.-bound plane on Christmas Day.
- Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announces that the federal stimulus legislation will pay for the purchase of hundreds of full-body scanners.
- A senior official from Homeland Security (HS) meets with union leaders representing U.S. airline pilots and flight attendants to explain the new procedures and asks for support during the transition period. In this presentation, she indicates the different security risk scenarios that could transpire and underscores this necessary move for the protection of Americans, visitors, and airline crews. (For example: What if a terrorist kidnaps a pilot’s family and threatens to kill them if he doesn’t comply with their demands? If pre-screened pilots were exempt from scanning every time they fly, this could be a very real threat.)
- HS sets up a direct communication channel for pilots and flight attendants to convey their concerns, questions, and personal experiences so that HS can conduct ongoing evaluations and make any procedural revisions, if necessary.
- Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano does the morning and talk show circuit to explain the new measures to the public. She has a TSA agent in tow to demonstrate a pat-down on the shows’ hosts. This, of course, gives the likes of Matt Lauer, Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Jon Stewart the opportunity to joke about the situation and reinforce how important these procedures are to our security.
- Through PR/social media, HS reinforces the many ways that air travelers can contact them with any concerns, questions, and personal experiences. TSA telephone agents are highly-trained customer service-oriented agents. Rather than focus on the intrusive aspect of these measures with complaining callers, HS spokespeople convey empathy and understanding. They listen. “Of course, we all wish we didn’t have to go this far.”
- A series of 30-second spots (leading up to the holiday) advises travelers what to expect, to allow for extra time, and that “we’re all in this together.”
These are just a few of the tactics that could have been employed. Sure, there’s no guarantee that a marketing communications strategy would have been the panacea to avoid all this backlash. But, hey, like any other issues management plan, it couldn’t hurt. At least, it would have been proactive.
Whether you believe these new measures to be an infringement of your privacy or not, this is a marketing blog, not a political one, so let’s focus on the messaging and positioning. The TSA has excellent information on its website entitled “Helpful Hints for Holiday Travelers.” There’s even a short video from TSA Administrator John Pistole.
Oh, yes, one more thing. Just in case any of my suggestions were actually done, (with the exception of the check-marked points) and I didn’t find them in my research, I apologize in advance. Hopefully, someone will set me straight.
Bottom line lesson (I hope): Proactive marketing communications can help avoid or reduce negative fallout on controversial issues.
Your turn to weigh in …
- Heckuva job, TSA – Napolitano thanks airport screeners (politico.com)
- U.S. Homeland Security secretary says TSA airport screenings will not change for Thanksgiving (nj.com)
Tags: David Letterman, issues management, Janet Napolitano, Jay Leno, John Pistole, Jon Stewart, Marketing Communications, Matt Lauer, President Obama, Transportation Security Administration, United States, United States Secretary of Homeland Security