Ever make the fatal mistake of forgetting to bring along reading material, a laptop or an iPod on a plane trip…and all you are left with is a cup of ice, a bag of pretzels and the airline’s in-flight magazine?

Or maybe you have grown weary of negotiating Xcel spread sheets, reviewing PowerPoint presentations or combing through national and/or local newspapers and then you look and there it is, right beside the throw-up bag: the very same in-flight magazine.

And if you have seen one, you pretty much have seen them all (okay, the international carriers provide meatier versions and they focus on the local culture…but they still are at their core, in-flight magazines).

Picking up the July edition of Southwest Airline’s “Spirit” magazine http://www.spiritmag.com/, I started thumbing through the predictable boilerplate CEO message in both Ingles y Espanol, the chosen destination travel guide (this time to always riveting Kansas City), the airline’s flight system map (usually the best part of the magazine) and then I came upon the story about: Todd Painter, Southwest Airline’s manager of Online Communications based in Dallas http://www.facebook.com/people/Todd-Painter/1477287519.

Was Southwest actually extending some LUV to one of its PR people for the benefit of its paying customers? To top it off, Southwest was even discussing employee communications and how to use corporate intranets to foster two-way communications between the company’s nearly 35,000 employees and the corporate brass.

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What a totally unexpected and pleasant surprise, even for an in-flight magazine.

Todd leads the Southwest’s corporate intranet site, “SWALife,” and has directed its transition into a multi-media, two-way communications tool.

“On a communications front, it is an exciting time for Southwest Airlines, as our employees now have the ability to join the online conversation,” Painter said. “For years, SWALife has been an invaluable information resource for our employees, but the site only offered one-way communication, and employees had no way to give feedback on what they were reading. With the launch of SWALife Interactive and its employee blog, our employees have a voice.”

Left unsaid in the article was a recounting of the myriad of obligatory meetings with Corporate Finance, Legal and Investor Relations (to name just three) about giving employees this type of freedom in the setting of a publicly traded company (NYSE: LUV) http://data.cnbc.com/quotes/luv. The most predictable and conservative responses from these always “concerned” internal audiences is the two-letter word that starts with the letter, “n.”

The worst approach that a corporate and/or employee communications manager could ever make with these internal audiences is to state that intranets are only for the company’s employees and therefore there is no danger of improper communication. This assertion defies reality because it only takes one click on the “forward” button and a story or an item is outside the company’s fire walls.

Nonetheless, Corporate PR or a designated Employee Communications Department should be able to prevail in this argument. Two-way communications (e.g. conversational marketing) are now a digital fact of life. In fact, colleague-to-colleague interactions are regarded as the most trusted of all communications. Besides, a publicly traded company’s employees should understand what is permissible (no selective disclosures of specific quarterly or yearly performance expectations, no “material information, no proprietary trade secrets). Aren’t we all big girls and boys?

By evidence of Todd’s story in “Spirit” magazine (which obviously had to be approved by some corporate legal eagle), Southwest now has an interactive employee intranet site. And yes, the company still trades every day on the New York Stock Exchange under the watchful eyes of the SEC. Public relations pros can prevail in these internal debates, and everyone is a winner including  blogging employees and hopefully the overall morale of everyone at the company as well.

Almost DailyBrett note: Todd’s successful fight against autoimmune liver disease, leading to a liver transplant in 2003 is awe-inspiring. And so is his championing of registered donor programs including the good folks at http://www.donatelife.net/

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