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MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS Last modified on February 26, 2010

The last word - Ian Taylor

Spin doctor and author, Ian Taylor, talks to Airport World about news coverage and managing the airport message.

How important is news coverage to an airport in terms of its image, brand and popularity?
News media coverage shapes public opinion and reputation.

In general, do airports get good news coverage and can they afford to ignore negative coverage?
Airports often get the news coverage they deserve. For example, ‘Passengers stranded eight hours on stinking aircraft’; ‘Airport police taser and kill disabled man’; ‘Airport security equipment not working for six weeks’; ‘Fuel, food service and baggage fees increase travel costs’; and ‘Passengers to face body cavity searches’.

There’s an old rule in public relations: You can’t do dumb things and get good coverage. Doing good things doesn’t assure good coverage, but it helps.

Are airports doing enough to ‘manage the media?’
No one can ‘manage the media,’ unless you own it. Focus on managing the message with media-speak instead of bureaucrat-speak and banish PRspeak entirely.

How can airports be more pro-active in managing their media message?
Make senior spokespersons accessible quickly and talk in 10-second soundbites in plain-talking, public-spirited professionalism. Write your news materials like journalists write news stories so that reporters don’t have to translate for their readers. Hold bi-annual, ‘no-ink’, or ‘not for publication’ meetings between all major airport agency spokespersons and local news editors to improve day-to-day working relationships. Make every single airport employee responsible for public relations and customer service. Train them to smile more, work hard and be polite to people.

How can airports improve community relations and marketing through their media relations?
Never let anyone else, including reporters and opponents, outconcern you on an issue. If others are concerned about the environment, make your message more concerned. Display candour and avoid defensive, reactionary or angry answers or you’ll be sure to end up on the wrong side of the issue. In your news messages, always place the public’s interests first. Example: “Passengers to benefit from new airport terminal programme.”

Do airport spokespersons require media training?
I’ve trained over 1,500 airport spokespersons from over 100 countries, so forgive my bias. When you can’t afford to fail in the court of public opinion, media training is worth its weight in gold.

It takes at least three positive statements to counter a negative one, so never let reporters put negative words in your mouths, never say “no comment” and speak in concise soundbites using three’s. That way, if a reporter asks, “Why have you failed to improve security?” the answer will sound like this: “Safety and security are our main priorities at (name) airport. We’re adding $12 million in new security equipment, increasing security staff by 22% and constantly improving our relationships with our security partners. Let me give you an example of some of the work we are doing...” That’s how spin doctors answer questions.

How can ACI help airports better manage their message?
ACI provides airport spokespersons with leadership and sample media statements on essential topics like safety, security, community relations, protecting the environment and working with aviation partners.

ACI’s new Airport Management Professional Accreditation Programme (AMPAP) offers a one-week, intensive Communications and Public Relations course – which I teach. It includes training in writing, speaking and being interviewed by a hostile or dumb reporter. There’s a simulated crash on-airport, a fictional financial scandal and each student undergoes an edited and unedited style of media interview, with instructor feedback. The course evaluations to date have been among the highest rated in the AMPAP series.


Name: Ian Taylor

Age: 59

Job title: President, Never Say “NO COMMENT” Inc.

Nationality: Canadian

Time in aviation industry: 31 years

Best known for: Media spokesperson for Toronto Pearson International Airport

Little known fact: Ian’s new book is ‘Are You Ready for Semi-Retirement?’


Airport World 2010 - Issue 1

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