07:46 AM

What to do when a short-term crisis evolves into a longer-term issue

How Schiphol's press team acted on the queues in summer 2022

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth – Mike Tyson”

This blog is the wrap-up from a roundtable session with Schiphol's press team and is written from their perspective and experiences. All Schiphol in- and external communications are a broader joint effort from multiple teams. 

Schiphol crisis case blog post

Why it matters

Most Corporate communication departments excel in managing a short-term crisis. The issue lists, script, and playbooks are there; everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. Yet, what to do if a short-term crisis evolves and turns to the longer-term? 

Schiphol shares its lessons learned. 

  1. Use all data and insights to feed your communications strategy and message
  2. Re-arrange yourself as a team to continue to deliver the best work possible
  3. Cliches still happen, no matter how prepared you are  

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol queuing issue

Start of the May holidays2022, after two covid years with travel restrictions and low numbers of remaining travellers, this happened.

  • Due to a shortage of security staff and very busy travelling and vacation days, the waiting time for security was long. Travellers were even forced to queue outdoors at peak moments. Definitely different from what you would expect from a quality airport.   
  • This grabbed the attention of all the media, partly because these were the first post-Corona vacation for the Dutch. 

First and foremost, as a communications team, you can make a difference; however, you can’t solve the crisis. The lessons learned when a short-term crisis turns to the longer-term. 

Data and insights for communications

As mentioned, the situation grabbed the attention of all the media. Daily a large number of questions about the situation, expectations, and measures were asked during the May holidays and the whole summer. Use all available data and insights to discover what matters to your audience. Social listening, webcare, customer care, and incoming press requests are significant indications. These insights can help you to make a difference.

For example, the following questions popped up.

  1. How many hours before their flight must passengers be at Schiphol airport?’ To be on the safe side, some travelers were at the airport 7 or 8 hours before their flight. A bit of updated advice to travelers: The Schiphol terminal is only accessible to passengers scheduled to depart within four hours. This message was spread via corporate channels, but a press release available to the media significantly impacted the spread of this message.
  2. What happens when passengers miss their flight due to queues? According to aviation rules, the airline is the point of contact for a refund when a flight is missed. Clearly, this situation was different, and travelers were falling between two stools. They set up a compensation scheme cooperating with the Dutch Consumers' Association and MAX Ombudsman.

Daily information requests by the press on the current situation; ‘what’s the queue prediction?’ ‘What’s the best time to travel tomorrow or this week?’ ‘How long in advance do I need to be at the airport?’

The purpose of the live blog was to proactively feed the press on the daily status, queues, and what to expect for that specific day. Questions that were asked daily by the media. A daily morning update on their newsroom with the current situation, arriving and departing flights, number of passengers, and expected queues during the day. 

Getting a live blog is merely a matter of creating the right content. Toggle the module ON in the Presspage platform, enter all content, and publish it with three clicks. 



A central point of messaging for press

The central point of the press is the newsroom, provided with the live blog. Schiphol used data and insights to define their daily messaging and daily updates. Due to this proactive data-driven messaging, the incoming press requests were significantly lower. The press team saw articles that included live blog updates without speaking with the journalists themselves. 

Reorganize the team

A short-term crisis evolving into a longer-term issue also takes its toll on the team. You can’t be on top of the game 24/7 for several weeks or months. You have to differ in setup to keep up with the pace and deliver the best communications possible while you keep your mental sanity. 

The changes Schiphol made

  1. No more week-long picket shifts. You need time to unwind and log off to be sharp for the upcoming week. Usually, the picket shift was the whole week, including Saturday and Sunday; they changed this into one-weekend-day picket shifts. 
  2. As already mentioned above, they started the live blog, for example.  Keep looking continuously to catch frequently asked questions efficiently.
  3. Make sure to keep the fun in the team and keep the connection with your co-workers on a personal level. It sounds contractionary, having fun during a crisis. Yet keeping up the spirits takes the edges of the job to be done. 
  4. Cliches still happen

Realizing that whatever you do and how prepared you are, all crisis communication cliches still happen. You better be ready for this.  No matter how much you open up to the press and show them the real-time back office and work floor and how hard everyone works there to solve the problems; 

  1. in hindsight, you can always communicate more and better 
  2. the media mainly highlights the impact on the public, not the efforts and improvements of the staff. It’s good to mitigate this internally; how the media displays the current situation doesn’t show all the efforts and hard work. 

In summary, the lessons learned

Re-arrange yourself to reclaim the direction of the crisis. Use your newsroom, data, and optional live blog as a central point of content around the crisis. 

  • Use all data and insights to feed your communications strategy and message
  • Re-arrange yourself as a team to continue to deliver the best work possible
  • Cliches still happen, no matter how prepared you are

Some final words on Presspage; make sure you have your software in place; it’s a tool to support you, it’s not the solution. However, remember that the last thing you want in times of crisis is malfunctioning or time-intensive software or a newsroom that can’t handle the load and goes black. 

If the above got your head nodding in agreement, it’s time to talk more about Presspage’s integrated PR workflow platform. A great first step would be to add your name to our distribution list: take thirty seconds to do it here. Or why not book a chat with a Presspage expert right now? We’d love to talk.