“Yes, most likely.” — Boeing President and CEO David L. Calhoun asked if one of his airline customers will go out of business

Three little devastating words.

What is one of the Golden Rules of Public Relations? Don’t answer hypotheticals.

“What happens if the sun slams into the earth?

You can think we would all fry and die and the markets would close early, but you have the right to keep your thoughts to yourself and to deliver a boring response to a reporter, anchor or correspondent.

Today’s Savannah Guthrie asked Calhoun if an airline (e.g., one of Boeing’s customer) could go under, and he uttered those three little words starting with “Yes.”

Guess what? The entire airline sector took a dive (pardon the poor Almost DailyBrett pun) as well as one of their chief suppliers … that would be … Boeing. The company’s PR department reportedly tried to “walk back” Calhoun’s gaffe, but as they say … ‘You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

Almost DailyBrett must first ask: Why “Today”?  Why now?

Even before Covid-19 sell-off, the company was responsible for two Boeing 737 Max-8 failure airplane crashes. As a former shareholder, your author knows the airline passenger market is on its back. Boeing turned into a ‘sell.’ It’s still a ‘sell.’

What’s the “great” news to bestow to the aeronautics rocket scientists at Today. Considering that Boeing is the ultimate B2B (business-to-business) is Today’s audience, your audience? Wouldn’t CNBC, Fox Business, Wall Street Journal or even Aviation Week be more appropriate media for Boeing?

Your Mother Always Told You To Tell The Truth

So did Immanuel Kant.

A former Silicon Valley colleague made a valid point that Boeing boss Calhoun should be given credit for telling the truth, and nothing but the truth.

True, but Calhoun went too far. Questions about the financial health of each and everyone of Boeing’s airline customers should be left to the … carriers themselves.

What was the alternative (besides declining the Today interview request)? How about not responding to the question, simply acknowledge the interrogative, say you can’t speak for individual airlines and pivot the discussion back to Boeing. The technique is known as Acknowledge-Bridge-SOCO (Strategic Operating Communications Objective).

SOCO is the answer, which coincides with predetermined before the Today interview Boeing’s agenda, not the wishes of Mizz Guthrie.

As a former press secretary for former California Governor George Deukmejian, your author and our press office staff parried each and every hypothetical question. It was our rule. It was our political discipline.

Consider one of the many questions that we received about legislation pending in the state Legislature, and whether the governor would sign or veto a bill? Unless it was one of the rare cases in which the governor deliberately wanted to send a discouraging message in advance — the bill would be DOA — we implemented our sacrosanct rule about not responding to hypotheticals.

Reporters would often voice their displeasure, but our answer made sense … bills are often amended. They are shelved in committee. They fail on the floor of one or the other house. You can’t make a judgment on a bill if and until it reaches the governor in its final form.

In governance, it’s sound public policy to plan for the future — California 2010 project in 1987. The Golden State foresaw the equivalent of the population of the State of Illinois moving to California. That prediction turned out to be true.

Having said that, there is zero upside with thinking out loud in the on-the-record presence of a reporter. Unless you have the internal green light from your management to float a trial balloon, the practice of speculating about the future is inherently dangerous.

And if you do venture into the hypothetical minefield, mind your own knitting (one metaphor following another),

Calhoun’s greatest sin in the eyes of Almost DailyBrett was conjecturing out loud about the business future of one of Boeing’s customers. That’s the carrier’s prerogative and responsibility, not Boeing, the B2B supplier.

Boeing’s PR department deserves more than its fair share of blame for this gaffe. Today was a bad choice at the worst time possible.

Calhoun was not adequately media trained, particularly when it comes to never answering hypotheticals.

https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/coronavirus-pandemic-could-force-major-u-s-airline-out-business-n1205036

http://www.boeing.com/company/bios/david-l-calhoun.page