As BA battles to keep its show on the runway, its competitors cannot resist taking a cheap dig

Our ’man on the inside’ provides a view from the top of the marketing tree.

Spare a thought for British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh right now. He gets my vote as brand manager of the week. When most of us craft strategic plans, we do not expect a bitter fight with our own employees. For Walsh, this is not just a short-term disagreement with cabin crew over terms and conditions, but a far bigger pursuit to rescue the airline.

He is trying to save a business that for years has been run by a militant union of brand managers. A continuation of the union-controlled strategy will almost certainly end in business failure and terminal unemployment for BA cabin crew.

Walsh is the first BA leader to pick a real fight with the union. He now stands accused of being macho and letting his ego spiral out of control, but have the union and indeed many of the cabin crew truly understood the state of the BA business? Do they realise that the business model is completely screwed and that it has been for years? Do they understand that the best chance of any meaningful long-term employment is to allowpainful surgery to take place?

As BA battles to keep the show on the runway, its competitors cannot resist taking a cheap dig. I am a supporter of feisty comparative advertising, but much of what BA’s rivals have been churning out in recent weeks is somewhat distasteful.

“As BA battles to keep its show on the runway, its competitors cannot resist taking a cheap dig.”

It is as if some spotty smart arse creatives at their ad agencies have been allowed to run riot with schoolyard humour, kicking their rival while it is down. Perhaps it is easier for many of these brands to talk about BA’s misfortune rather than their own service excellence. Would it not be better to resist the temptation of such advertising and reinvest the savings in not asking their own customers to pay to use the toilet?

I admire the lean business model that has been championed by the budget airlines, but I do sense they are starting to irritate. Customers want lower prices, but they also want to be treated decently along the way. Despite its woes, BA remains a trusted brand. When it comes to looking after its customers, BA’s handling of the recent industrial action has been first class. One wonders how many of their budget rivals may have coped if placed in a similar quandary.

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