Hierarchical rankings

Each country has general and specific criteria for ‘official rankings’; these should be used as a basic guideline for that specific country (and reflect state practice to a certain extent), although they can serve as a ranking guide and orientation for industry events, for example. 

Not following these criteria can have very serious ramifications for international, social and business ties. Not only can mistakes lead to a certain level of ‘disgruntlement’, but also quite possibly to long-term misunderstandings and even to the end of communications or relationships that may have been built up over a number of years. 

However, in all organisational areas where protocol plays a role, there is more to ‘ranking’ than just hierarchies; a large number of further criteria are also significant and should in all cases be considered in the overall approach to an event.

The following points are always significant and must not be overlooked

  • Occasion and objective of the event (‘Parameters / Overall context’)
  • Where and in whose ‘territory’ the event will be held (Airbus, state, city, municipality, organisation, etc.)
  • Who the main guest is (customer, politician, someone from the business world, etc.); it may help to group guests in ‘clusters’ (rankings within each ‘cluster’ must be tailored to the respective event. The guest of honour must also be considered: see PRO TIP)
  • Who the host is (Airbus, co-hosts: e.g. a national politician?, etc.)
  • Fair and balanced distribution of the various representatives of the groups / ‘clusters’ (applies in particular to seating arrangements)
  • When speeches are to be given: sit the speaker at the front, ensure they can make their way to the stage easily and that access is unrestricted
  • Room layout: where the doors and windows are. Where possible, do not seat guests so that their backs are to the doors. Be aware of draughts near the windows. Avoid seating anyone where there will be significant footfall (applies in particular for seating plans)
  • Seat guests/speakers with disabilities where it would be most appropriate for them (be sure to ask the guest’s contact person) and cater to any needs/specific requirements

Further concepts/principles that are often used as protocol criteria, not only in Germany, but also in other countries

  • Professional rank – each country has different rules
  • Foreigners of the same rank before natives
  • Mandate holders before office holders, or elected before appointed
  • Within ministries: senior employees before junior employees
  • Ladies before gentlemen (if of equal rank)
  • Age before youth (if of equal rank)
  • Unacquainted guests before acquaintances (when it comes to Airbus, Airbus employees and executives always count as co-hosts, with the exception of the guest of honour)
  • Guests connected closely with the occasion before guests with distant connections

Wherever possible, it is of course always important from a protocol perspective to keep in mind how national, sociological and cultural criteria could play out between the countries represented at an event when considering any kind of ‘ranking’. 

This requires a very high degree of tact and empathy. There is one principle of protocol that is always fundamental: the level of personal service offered to each visitor – regardless of their ‘ranking’ (at the event in question) – should make them feel like they are a top-ranked guest.

“Small things make perfection, but perfection is no small thing.”
Sir Frederick Henry Royce (1863–1933) was an English engineer and a pioneer in the automotive industry. Together with Charles Stewart Rolls, he founded Rolls-Royce. 

The following are examples of high-level, official events where orders of precedence always play a role

  • Seated lunchtime and evening events
  • Receptions (where organisational, scheduling or hierarchical factors must be considered for the guests)
  • VIP visits (and any ranking required during the event)
  • Customer events (such as deliveries)
  • Communication events (where Airbus is concerned, see also the ‘Event Directive’)
  • Conferences and lectures (where Airbus is concerned, see also the ‘Event Directive’)
  • Where Airbus is concerned: events for the internal VVIP target group: BoD, CEO, EMT or GEC member

During this kind of event, there is always a number of guests to whom special attention must be paid when it comes to the following:

  • greeting them personally
  • how they are addressed / mentioning them in speeches (welcoming them)
  • their particular placement, which is reflected in where they are seated for each individual event

Airbus has defined the following target groups / audiences for events

  • Customers (CEO and general)
  • Suppliers (CEO)
  • VIP visitors (internal VVIP: BoD, CEO, EMT or GEC members)
  • VIP politicians or politicians from regions of relevance for Airbus (both at a national and an international level)
  • Opinion formers of relevance for Airbus (‘CEO external Stakeholders’)
  • Investors
  • Others: such as representatives from the worlds of research and technology, celebrities, etc.
  • And many more

General note

Please bear in mind that protocol can only provide advice. This is why all ‘ranking’ decisions derived from protocol – whether it concerns forms of address, greetings, seating arrangements, or anything else – must be made with the constant involvement of the host or the customer before the event.

Pro Tip and No Go

Pro Tip
If an event is being held because of a specific person, or if there is a main guest or guest of honour, then in general, this person must be classed as the most important guest. This then applies equally to all aforementioned criteria in the protocol assessment, and can also include an invitation list or list of priorities put forward by the main guest or guest of honour themselves.

For general questions, please visit the Airbus HUB, where you’ll find information on the Event Directive

No Go
Avoid consulting non-professionals about ‘rankings’ – it is an absolute ‘minefield’ and simply too complex.