Malcolm Robertson is BAA’s new communications director
the firm’s comms chief tells Kate Magee about his plans.
demands It is hardly surprising. Since its takeover by Ferrovial in 2006, the
airport operator has certainly not had it easy. In the past year alone it has
been forced to sell Gatwick Airport, endured the volcanic ash cloud grounding
planes all over the country, suffered BA cabin crew strikes and lost the battle
to build a third runway at Heathrow.
corporate and public affairs pitch last month, and says he wants to adopt a more
proactive comms strategy to improve the public’s perception of London Heathrow.
comms service,’ he says. In the past 18 months the team has kept a low profile,
speaking to industry journalists behind the scenes. But now BAA is ready to start
Social media will be one channel of communication. Using quirky ideas remains
another; BAA and retained consumer agency Mischief PR won a PRWeek Award for installing
philosopher Alain de Botton in the airport for a week to write a book about his
experience. Robertson has asked Mischief to come up with an idea each month.
was careful during the ash cloud crisis to make sure the airport ‘did not become
the backdrop of another aviation crisis’. But in the past few weeks he has welcomed
promotions by both The Apprentice and T-Mobile, with an advert that saw customers
being serenaded at the Arrivals area.
but a programme that gives a deeper understanding of how Heathrow works and supports
the economy and society,’ he says. ‘There are still people who regard it as a
pastime to slag off Heathrow.’
it does appear that BAA has turned the corner. And that typifies Malcolm’s approach,’
says The Guardian’s transport correspondent Dan Milmo. ‘He is always upbeat about
the business, even when it was going through the whipping-boy era. Now that BAA
is largely off the main news pages, the challenge for him is getting the business
back on to these pages in a good way.’
a consumer PRO. Instead he appears a serious and no-nonsense character with a
dry sense of humour. He is at pains to point out that you should never ‘let the
marketing get ahead of the reality’.
of corporate affairs Colin Liddell restore the organisation’s reputation following
a difficult takeover. ‘I studied what was happening from my lowly seat in HR where
I was bored,’ he says matter-of-factly. ‘Everyone wanted to be there and I had
no experience.’ Instead he approached Beattie Communications’ founder Geoff Beattie
and persuaded him to give him a one-year contract, which turned into three.
under the skin of one business, and rose through the ranks to take the top comms
job in May. He clearly loves his job. ‘A journalist said to me once that this
must be one of the worst jobs in PR. It’s quite the opposite. I’d be bored out
of my mind in some of these other organisations. Once you’ve had a taste of this
industry, what could be more exciting than Heathrow?’
launch of Terminal 5 set them back at least a couple of years in terms of reputation:
‘We had invested a lot of hope in T5. That could have been the turning point,
but to see that disappear was quite tough.’
without wishing to sound blase, handling the response was ‘quite straightforward’.
says he is ‘unflappable’. ‘He is straight-talking and balanced. But he can also
have a laugh. He is very ambitious.’
received for the major pitch. Throughout the interview, he has these documents
by his side. Robertson will not be swayed to offer PRWeek a glimpse. He is just
as unlikely to be distracted from his attempt to improve the perception of BAA.
contract at Beattie Media. That kicked off an apprenticeship that would prove
difficult to beat, and I learned many lessons that I enjoy passing on to this
manager of people and the best motivator that I have ever worked with, and remains
a great friend and mentor.
people see you. This business is all about winning arguments and persuading people
to believe you – that requires quite a deep understanding of how you relate to