Arun Sudhaman 24 Oct 2019 // 2:21AM GMT
HONG KONG — Cathay Pacific has called on Edelman to help it navigate the PR fallout from the severe scrutiny it has faced from Chinese authorities, the Holmes Report can reveal.
Edelman has long served as one of Cathay Pacific's key PR agencies, with a particular focus on crisis situations, but the Holmes Report understands that the new assignment has only taken shape in recent weeks.
According to sources familiar with the situation, the project involves helping the embattled Hong Kong airline understand customer and employee perceptions as it attempts to plot a revival from the difficulties it has faced since anti-government protests began sweeping the city four months ago.
Since then, Cathay has faced intense pressure from Beijing to rein in staff from taking part in the protests. Despite being one of the region's highest-profile brands, the airline is particularly vulnerable to such demands, given its reliance on travel to Chinese destinations, and the minority stake held in Cathay by Air China.
The pressure has so far forced the resignations of Cathay CEO Rupert Hogg and his top deputy, along with the departures of at least 30 rank-and-file staff, according to Reuters. In addition, Cathay Pacific chairman John Slosar resigned in September, amid reports of a "climate of fear" at the airline.
In a memo to staff, Slosar described the situation as the “most extraordinary and challenging times” that Cathay had experienced. The airline has reported two straight months of passenger declines, and has warned of a "significant shortfall" in advance bookings for the rest of the year, thanks to a particularly protracted slump in inbound passenger traffic.
It is understood that Edelman's project focuses on Hong Kong alone and does not include any stakeholder mapping in Beijing. Following an August directive from the Civil Aviation Authority of China to suspend staff who participated or supported demonstrations, Reuters reported that Cathay has stepped up efforts to investigate employee social media accounts.
Meanwhile, Cathay also recently fired two staff for tampering with oxygen bottles aboard its planes, adding to its spate of problems.
A Cathay spokesperson said that Edelman had been the airline's PR adviser "on many projects for the past decade." An Edelman spokesperson, meanwhile, told the Holmes Report that the firm "does not discuss companies that we do or don't work with."