Spirit AeroSystems shares award for crisis communications with American Airlines

UPDATED — Which is a bigger crisis for an aircraft company or an airline to deal with: An EF-3 tornado, or Alec Baldwin getting kicked off a flight for playing Words With Friends when he’d been told to shut down all electronics?

Turns out they’re both big deals for crisis communicators, so Ragan’s PR Daily recently awarded Spirit AeroSystems and American Airlines an award for best crisis communications.

“I was totally blown away,” says Spirit spokesman Ken Evans. “I thought we had a 10 percent shot.”

He figured no matter how dramatic the April 14 tornado was, it’s hard to top a celebrity crisis.

PR Daily says Spirit won because it lost all its traditional communication tools – e-mail, its website, even desk phones – but still managed to keep the public, the media and employees informed.

“We were kind of forced to think outside the box for us,” Evans says. “We’re a fairly conservative communications group. … I know that’s shocking to you.”

Twitter became one of the company’s chief communication tools. It also used YouTube and Flickr.

Evans says Spirit’s communications team made a case to management that it needed to reach out immediately, particularly to the media, “so that all of our local stakeholders wouldn’t panic.”

“One of the best results of the week was that our stock did not take a major hit even after that EF-3 tornado.”

He says the company learned lessons from the crisis as well.

“The one audience we didn’t spend (time) keeping up to date was an internal audience at other Spirit sites around the world. They were hungrier for information on a daily basis than we thought they would. They felt left out.”

Evans says the company is using some social media more these days than it used to.

“Our leadership is more comfortable now than they were before with using some of the newer tools.”

So far, that doesn’t include a corporate Facebook page.

“Interestingly enough, we are looking at a business case for that,” Evans says.

He says he accepted the award on his team’s behalf because Debbie Gann, Spirit’s vice president of communications and public affairs, was too modest to go.

“I tried desperately to get Debbie to go,” Evans says. “It’s her team. She was intimately involved in leading us the whole way.”

He adds, “She would have been more prepared than I was.”

Evans, a former television reporter, had a short contingency speech ready and did everything he could up to the minute the awards started to see if he’d need to use it.

He tried, to no avail, with “every bit of journalistic skill I had left.”