As a director of a consultancy helping clients communicate more effectively, I'm used to analysing the difference between "winners" and "qualifiers", between Seabiscuit and the also-rans. Maybe marketing communications has evolved so much in recent years, or maybe we just work with good people to start with, but I'd forgotten about the donkeys.


I was rudely reminded of this reality over the Christmas season courtesy of Royal Air Maroc’s Atlas Blue subsidiary. Crappy, very crappy customer communication. Oh so very crap indeed.

Nevertheless, I've been able to wend the story of dealing with Air Maroc into my presentations to customers and prospects on good digital marketing relations, as a counter-example, even though I didn't interact with Air Maroc digitally at all.

Our plane didn't arrive. It's not that our plane was stuck in Birmingham rather than sweeping down to Gatwick to collect us. That was caused by fog. We understand that. Air Maroc has no influence over the weather. So on the basis that I'm starting off neutral towards Air Maroc here and my group of 4 adults and a baby is relatively philosophical about the weather, the ball is in Air Maroc's court to simply keep 206 passengers warm, watered and informed.

I won't catalogue the comedy of communication errors in their entirety, but needless to say we'd have been relatively pleased in hindsight just to be warm. We were left for hours with no information (literally in the cold), which generated a rather interesting rumour mill amongst passengers. I'm sure no other profession could have derived an inkling of interest out of this, but watching how conjecture turned into fact in minutes almost made up for losing the feeling in our feet.

But there's worse. When staff did deign to tell us some "news", they lied! In 2008. Face-to-face lies. Unbelievable.

We did make it to Marrakesh in the end - a tantalising city - and I now have a new "what not to do" study. Digital media relations is the most powerful channel marketing communicators have ever had to establish true two-way communication, and symmetrically. The ability to listen and engage rather than preach is unparalleled. An organisation can sensitise itself to customers' and prospects' needs, and direct this new sensing towards improved customer relations, improved pre- and post-sales support, improved new product development.

Air Maroc could have had 206 returning customers, with a sprinkling of advocates amongst them for their adept communication skills. Instead, I have no doubt whatsoever that they now have 206 people convincing others not to fly Air Maroc.