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Malaysia Airlines Calls In Ketchum For MH370 Crisis PR Counsel

Asia Pacific, Global

Arun Sudhaman 28 Mar 2014

KUALA LUMPUR—Malaysia Airlines has been working with Ketchum on the crisis PR response to the disappearance of flight MH370, the Holmes Report can reveal.

The beleagured airline called in John Bailey — a well-known aviation PR expert who heads Ketchum Icon in Singapore — a few days after MH370 went missing on 8 March. 

The Holmes Report understands that Bailey has been leading a team of seven Ketchum staffers, drawn from the firm's Singapore, London and New York offices, in Kuala Lumpur over the past two weeks.

The team is providing Malaysia Airlines with crisis communications counsel, but is not doing any work for the Malaysian Government.

"Approximately a week after the disappearance of MH370, the management of Malaysia Airlines engaged a team from Ketchum to provide advice and media support," confirmed Ketchum EMEA CEO David Gallagher to the Holmes Report.

"This has been an unprecedented event and our hearts go out to the passengers and crew of flight MH370, and to the families of those on board."

Ketchum acquired longstanding Singapore affiliate Icon last year. Bailey, who founded the agency in 2005, has handled numerous aviation crisis situations, often in tandem with Kenyon International Emergency Services. Kenyon is not, however, involved in the current situation. 

While Malaysia Airlines has been criticised for its communications response to the disaster, the airline's former communications head defended its approach.

"I honestly don’t think the criticism is fair," Indira Nair told the Holmes Report. "Considering the complexity of what happened...what could the airline have done better?"

Nair, who left the airline in 2010 and now runs her own consultancy, noted that Malaysia Airlines has been hamstrung by the Malaysian government's own uncomfortable communications response.

"The Malaysian government is not used to dealing with the international media, especially in situations like this," she said. "A crisis is not a rehearsal — you must do your preparation beforehand."

While Nair said that Malaysia Airlines had a full suite of crisis plans in place, she noted that the airline had been severely tested by the involvement of other governments and organisations, and the unique nature of the situation.

She also admitted that "little things could have been done better," particularly where the families of the missing where concerned. The airline, she added, had appeared overly reactive in the face of sustained criticism. 

The Malaysian government retains a large stake in Malaysia Airlines. As WSJ editor Adam Najberg noted in Mumbrella Asia earlier this week, "the brand is identified with the country". Nair agreed that the story will hurt both the airline and national brand.

"It really depends on how Malaysia Airlines recovers and wins back confidence," said Nair. "I wonder how much damage this has done to the Malaysia country brand."

Malaysia Airlines representatives did not respond to request for comment as this story went live. The search for MH370 continues. 

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