Nick James' Business Blog: British AirwaysBy Nick James
September 01, 2009
Image is an all-important factor of any successful business. As with all forms of enterprise and society reputation is everything, and in a mass media age the standing of a business is immediately transmitted to the public through its company branding.
That’s why a whole industry has developed around it and so many millions of pounds are spent each year on getting company branding just right.
So it was initially a surprise to hear that British Airways, formerly marketed as ‘the World’s fa-vourite Airline’ had decided to run ads for other companies on its online boarding passes.
B.A. also intends to accept paid advertising on their website.
Much of the initial response to this surprising change of practice has been negative.
I personally feel that B.A. had previously always strived to maintain an upmarket image, so, with this latest money making venture its brand value will inevitably nose dive towards that of the budget carriers.
After all, I’m only just getting over them stopping serving all meals other than breakfast in econ-omy class for flights of under two and a half hours!
B.As manager responsible for branding was quoted in The Times as saying ‘We’re seeking brands with a strong heritage and parity to British Airways’ own brand values. Our customers should expect us to bring them brands that they trust and respect.’
Well, that’s a nice way of putting it, but the bottom line is that they have been forced into this money making scheme and whatever their public stance, it must surely go against company ethos to resort to these methods.
Yet they have very little choice in the matter. They have to claw back something of the £401 million they lost last year through lack of custom and the £148 million deficit recorded for the months up until June this year.
It’s now got to the point where they will have to ‘park’ anything up to twenty two aircraft next winter, because it won’t be viable to keep these planes air borne.
B.A. have already asked staff to volunteer to take unpaid leave or work for free and in a response which reflected well on the airline, 6,940 B.A. staff agreed to would work a period of time for no pay, or volunteered to take unpaid leave.
The airline also wants to cut 3,400 positions from ground and cabin crew staff, as well as cutting pay and allowances within a new set of imposed working conditions.
My view is that British Airway’s branding will be negatively and perpetually altered now that it is intermingled with sold advertising space.
However, in business, you must always be practical - and more importantly, realistic.
Times have never been so hard for the airline industry and there is still abolutely no sign of it showing any recovery.
Former customers of B.A. have turned towards the budget airlines simply because their ‘no frills’ approach is more affordable, not because they prefer the actual flying experience.
It is airlines such as Ryan Air and Easyjet that British Airways now finds itself in direct competition with and they will have to fight with them on their own level.
For those who remember when British Airways really did seem to ‘Fly the Flag’ for Britain it’s sad to see their loss of prestige.
I personally don’t like the watering down of the airline’s brand image, but I am strongly on the side of businesses holding faith with their customers and staff, so if ‘needs must’ then so be it.
If prevailing conditions dictate an altered signifance in the brand’s image then this reality simply has to be faced.
Rather the loss of prestige than the loss of a British institution - and hundreds and thousands of badly needed jobs.