How United Airlines Integrated Comms Into Strategic Company Decision-Making

At an Axios Communicators event on Dec. 14, United Airlines’ Executive Vice President of Communications and Advertising, Josh Earnest, shared details about the brand’s integrated communications playbook. He outlined the following benefits and insights the company has learned by giving PR a seat at the table.

*Integrating comms with other parts of the business gives organizations the ability to make informed business decisions swiftly—and with company reputation in mind at the outset.

“The communications team speeds up our advertising operation,” Earnest said. “We operate at a higher velocity now...[for example,] swapping out digital billboards in airports to capitalize on PR opportunities we've exploited.”

*For those communicators seeking to occupy a seat at the table, Earnest recommends cultivating relationships with your executives to build trust.

“If you look at brands that sometimes get in trouble, it's because they were making decisions without having an eye toward the reputational aspects of the decision,” he said. “It also comes down to trust. There are leaders who… want to make sure that their comms people have the kind of judgment that they need that they can rely on... Build those personal relationships and that trust with the leader that you're serving so that when they have a big decision to make they feel confident about including you.”

*Ensure the communications teams… communicate with each other.

“We have discreet verticals that are dedicated to employee communications, PR, social media… and then we ask each of those organizations to work across the business,” he said. “It forces us to put the impetus on our leadership team, and oftentimes me, to make sure that those teams that are all under the communication structure are all communicating with one another.”

*Provide a 360-view of the business to those communications teams, which will empower them to make decisions.

“I try to be as transparent as possible with the entire team to make sure they're aware of what's going on all across the business,” he said, “so that when they're in a position where they have to make decisions, they can do so with the vantage point and with full awareness of what's going on at the company.”

*The toughest decisions do not have clarity.

“You don't have access to perfect information. You don't know exactly how things are going to turn out. There is uncertainty, and that's what makes those decisions tough. Those are the times where I want people to use their judgment to come to me and talk about those decisions,” he said. “But the more effective that I can be in sharing information and empowering members of my team to make good decisions, the less often they're going to have to come to me and get sign off. That means our team is going to be more effective, they're going to be more decisive, and they're going to be faster.”

*The best way for companies to demonstrate that they actually care about a specific issue is to take clear steps to show that.

“We're not worried about taking positions,” he said. “We're worried about taking action.”

Kaylee Hultgren is Content Director for PRNEWS.