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Industry Insights

A4A Speaks on PRWeek Crisis Comms Panel

A4A SVP of Communications Rebecca Spicer participated in a panel entitled “The Misinformation and Disinformation Emergency” at the PRWeek Crisis Comms Conference in Washington, D.C., on April 18, 2024. 

The discussion focused on how to be an effective communicator and maintain brand messaging amid widespread misinformation, disinformation and emerging AI technologies. 

Joining Spicer were Wasim Khaled, Blackbird.AI CEO and Co-Founder; Pallavi Kumar, Hurst Senior Professional Lecturer at the American University School of Communication; and Scott McFarlane, Congressional Correspondent for CBS News. The panel was moderated by Steve Barrett, Vice President and Editorial Director at PRWeek.

Spicer discussed reactive and proactive strategies to utilize in public relations, highlighting the importance of the human element of communication as AI technologies become more prevalent.

“At the crux of everything we do, even with all the technology, there has to be a human element and we have to have relationships with each other in order to effectively communicate and control a narrative,” Spicer said.

Barrett asked her to talk about how “A4A’s members cope in an environment where 90 percent of Americans have flown, 50 percent by the age of 16.” He went on to note that the airline industry became the face of the pandemic in several ways.

Spicer stressed the importance of utilizing research, data and facts to drive a clear message, highlighting A4A’s leadership in approaching the Harvad T.H. Chan School of Public Health to conduct independent research during the pandemic to examine the air on planes.

“In the early months of the pandemic, air travel plummeted 97 percent. To put that in perspective, our throughput was what we saw in the 1950s at the dawn of the jet age,” Spicer said. “We built a ‘big tent’ coalition of industry stakeholders and approached the Harvard School of Public Health to conduct independent research examining how clean air is on an airplane. They came back with data, facts and science showing that the air on an airplane is as safe – if not safer than – restaurants, grocery stores and other familiar places. Then we worked with a lot of contacts saying here’s the data.”

Barrett asked the panelists to briefly explain why disinformation and misinformation is the biggest threat to truthful content and messaging, especially as AI is increasing. He noted that one study estimated 90 percent of what we see on our screens by 2025 will be the product of generative AI.

In response, Spicer highlighted the importance of including the human element when making decisions. She added, “We cannot eliminate relationships – we must continue to build and maintain relationships with a range of people, whether that be the reporters who cover us, our member carriers and many others. It’s vital that we have relationships with people who cover us so that we can have an honest two-way conversation built on trust, transparency and honesty.”

The conversation rounded out a day of discussions in which various industry leaders educated a sold-out crowd on how to handle messaging and outreach amidst a crisis, touching on their own personal experiences and expertise. 

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