Back in September, I asked the students in my public relations class at Mercer County Community College how they would react to the following scenario:
You are in charge of public relations for Southwest Airlines. On Labor Day, Gerry Braun, a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune calls your cell phone to ask for the airline’s comment on a story he is writing for the next day’s paper. His story is about Kyla Ebbert, a 23-year-old woman who lives in the San Diego area. She clams that after boarding a Southwest flight from San Diego to Tucson, an airline employee escorted her off the plane and informed her she was dressed too provocatively and would not be able to take the flight unless she changed her clothes. Kyla contends there was nothing offensive about her outfit — a white denim miniskirt, high-heel sandals and a turquoise summer sweater over a tank top over a bra — and that it was similar to what many young women wear today. She said she was embarrassed by the manner in which she was treated and would like Southwest to apologize.
From a PR standpoint, I thought Southwest took a bad situation and made it worse by giving the reporter conflicting information and failing to follow through on a promise to call him back with the information he needed – after promising to do so. (His story is online at http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20070905/news_1m5braun.html.)
Now comes the latest twist. The young woman in question, Kyla Ebbert, came off as a victim when the incident first came to light. Now she is using it to gain additional notoriety by posing nude for Playboy.