Malaysia Airlines Responds with Caution to #MH17 Tragedy in Ukraine

malaysia-airlinesMalaysia Airlines has now made headlines twice in recent months for horrific tragedies.

The company’s reputation took an expected hit during the ongoing narrative regarding flight MH370. The bad news culminated with a story about a text message sent to family members of the missing, and that story was amplified by several slightly misleading media reports that drove the larger narrative.

The company signed with Ketchum several days after the flight went missing. Its response to this tragedy closely mirrors its all-media response to the MH370 disappearance–yet the newer story is also very different in several key ways.

In this case, the airline responded very quickly on social media before the details of the case were even clear, both stating that it had lost contact with the plane and turning its profiles dark:


Again the company used the #MASAlert tag, as well as the #MH17 tag specific to the flight, to issue a series of both breaking details and statements of solidarity with the families of the victims:

If anything, the company’s response reads as slightly more cautious this time around. Still, experts commenting on a related PR Week story today had conflicting opinions, with Incite founder and former White House assistant press secretary Ben LaBolt writing:

“Putting a statement [like Malaysia Airlines did on Twitter] into the ether that provides really no information and answers no questions will not be seen as helpful guidance.”

At the same time, instincts tell us that the company had to respond in some way to acknowledge the event as soon as possible.

Interestingly, recent reports confirming that the plane was struck by a surface-to-air missile, alongside pro-Russian separatists’ admission that they own a weapon capable of firing the sort of projectile that destroyed the plane, have implicated Vladimir Putin in the ongoing drama, as mentioned today in a story by New Yorker editor and longtime Russia expert David Remnick.

Even more interestingly: Ketchum has represented both Malaysia Airlines and Putin’s government, which responded to the tragedy yesterday by blaming anti-Russian Ukrainian separatists without directly claiming that they fired the missile. Eventually, Malaysia Airlines will have to confirm what happened, but from an outsider’s perspective it certainly seems that their sense of caution is well-advised.

The only thing we can say for sure at this time is that the narrative behind this horrific tragedy has only begun.