It’s probably fair to say that Doug Yakel could not have imagined that his July Fourth holiday weekend would be interrupted by a plane crash. But as the new public information officer (PIO)–a.k.a. spokesperson– for San Francisco International Airport, he had to already be prepared for this unlikely, terrible event.
I’m presuming that when Asiana Flight 214 crashed on the runway Saturday, Yakel was among the very first people called. And he no doubt had to move fast, getting to the airport in minutes from his nearby home so he could quickly learn every fact possible. He went in front of reporters just two and a half hours after the accident, handling the first press briefing after the crash. He’s likely going to have long days and sleepless nights this coming week and beyond.
Doug Yakel’s job is one of countless examples of what public relations professionals do. These communication experts are far removed from the PR people who stage red carpet events or plan publicity tours. Public relations people in official capacities–especially related to air travel–have planned and rehearsed for such crises so if that a rare tragedy occurs, they’re ready to effectively work with the press, the families, police and fire departments, and investigative authorities. The often delicate messages must be tailored to each public and handled in different ways, and moment-by-moment decisions made by management in times of trouble must include strategic input provided by the PR staff.
Information in his LinkedIn background shows that Doug Yakel has been in his present job for just three months. Prior to taking on the PIO role at San Francisco International, he held operations and management positions at smaller airports and an airline. In the air travel industry, there’s always hope that crisis plans will never have to be used, and I’m pretty sure that Yakel didn’t anticipate being thrust into such a high profile role. But the truth is that in PR, you must always prepare for the worst case scenario. Your thoughts?