Monday, September 26, 2005

JetBlue: A Bad Day Becomes Good

Is a plane crash good for an airline? Never.

Well, make that “ALMOST never.”

The recent emergency landing of JetBlue flight 292 Wednesday, Sept. 21, in Los Angeles may prove to be a windfall of sorts for the airline.

The reason is the “color commentary” of cable network newscasters who covered the plane’s three-hour ordeal live.

One MSNBC commentator noted that, “if you’ve ever flown JetBlue, you know” that the airline has no business class, since “they like to treat all passengers as if they are in first class.”

One TV network mentioned that all seats in the plane are leather.

USA Today noted, “JetBlue airliners have satellite television monitors installed in the backs of seats.” (Surreally, passengers watched their ordeal live on CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC until minutes before the landing.)

Yes, you CAN buy advertising like this - but why bother, when it’s free?

Had this plane crashed, and had it not had a masterful pilot (who, noted another network gabber, landed *exactly* on the center line of the runway) this story would be quite different, of course.

But as it was, even JetBlue’s stock weathered the storm, opening sharply lower on the NASDAQ Thursday only to roar back higher than before the incident by day’s end.

The news was so good, a news release sent out the following day by CEO David Neeleman was left free to praise the professionalism of the pilot and crew, and note how the airline had cared for the passengers.

Obviously, this was “unearned” publicity. But clearly, a commitment to quality and the predisposition of TV talking heads to praise the airline’s service and now “near”-perfect safety record made all the difference in how this company was perceived in a time of crisis.

The message here is clear: Laying the groundwork now through good service and high quality can make all the difference later, when good will and positive messages really matter.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bush’s New Orleans Katrina speech Analysis:

Pres. Bush gave a speech in New Orleans Thursday night outlining his approach to the disaster. Many said, “Well, it’s about time.” Here is my analysis of the speech’s words themselves:

First Post-Speech Impressions: “Wow, we elected Lyndon Delano Bush!” This is the most ambitious spending we’ve ever undertaken since the Great Society. However, I was deeply moved by the lines evoking history, and the plan had conservative elements, like savings accounts for job retraining. The “Marshall Plan” aspect of the speech is historic. I agree with strategist Dick Morris: The Democrats had be quite careful how they approach Bush’s plans.

Best Paragraph: “In the life of this nation, we have often been reminded that nature is an awesome force, and that all life is fragile. We are the heirs of men and women who lived through those first terrible winters at Jamestown and Plymouth, who rebuilt Chicago after a great fire, and San Francisco after a great earthquake, who reclaimed the prairie from the dust bowl of the 1930s. Every time, the people of this land have come back from fire, flood and storm to build anew and to build better than what we had before. Americans have never left our destiny to the whims of nature and we will not start now.”

Line Most Reminiscent of a “Fireside Speech”: “I know that when you sit on the steps of a porch where a home once stood or sleep on a cot in a crowded shelter it is hard to imagine a bright future. But that future will come.” - Like FDR in the Great Depression, Bush delivered some very comforting lines. This should have been the tone of his post-Katrina “Rose Garden” Speech just after the hurricane, but it wasn’t, and he suffered for being uncaring and out-of-touch.

Most Uplifting To Residents: “The streets of Biloxi and Gulfport will again be filled with lovely homes and the sound of children playing. The churches of Alabama will have their broken steeples mended and their congregations whole. And here in New Orleans, the streetcars will once again rumble down St. Charles, and the passionate soul of a great city will return.”

Most Inappropriate Line for a Presidential Address: “Please call 1-877-568-3317 - that's 1-877-568-3317 - and we will work to bring your family back together, and pay for your travel to reach them.” - As Michelle Malkin said in her blog “Maybe it's just me, but isn't there something tacky about having the leader of the free world reading a phone number from the teleprompter? Also, it's been three weeks and they're only now publicizing a number for Katrina families looking for missing relatives?” Note: It’s not just her.

Biggest “Duh” Line: “Four years after the frightening experience of September 11th, Americans have every right to expect a more effective response in a time of emergency.” - Does this mean he “gets it?” Let’s hope he understands the wide, bi-partisan anger and exasperation over those scenes at the Superdome and elsewhere.

Lines Most Reminiscent of the “Great Society”: “…poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality.” - Race had nothing to do with the poverty in New Orleans, and he shouldn’t have bought the liberal spin on this. No amount of (long term) federal spending will “end” poverty, even though immediate needs must be met. Even so, where is race in the rescue? The FEMA failures? The failure of local officials? It’s nowhere.

Conclusions: Overall, this speech was well performed, and nicely written. It touched a lot of good points, but was probably delivered eight days too late for its proper impact. His tendency to make lists of all the good things the government has done was on display again here, but I’m certain his advisors thought something positive must be here, since he again took full responsibility for a slow response. As a grade, I’d give it a solid “B” for conveying a clear message, and a “B” for historical memorability.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The "Sign Seen 'Round the World." Will BP Take A Hit?

Amidst the horrific destruction in the American South are oil refineries that are no longer working.

Government officials say 11 major refineries, responsible for up to 15% of the nation's gasoline output, are out of commission. No one knows how long.

Prices here in New Hampshire hit $3/gallon, and panic buying of gas in Atlanta and elsewhere caused gas lines, but one Atlanta station in particular took the opportunity to spike prices even higher.

A British Petrolium station in Atlanta posted prices that topped $6.07 per gallon for premium unleaded.

I'd hate to be the owner of that station once the corporate office of BP gets wind of it (since price gouging is likely not company policy.) But nevertheless, the picture here of the sign - photographed originally from network news helicopters - was shown on every network Wednesday afternoon.

CBS Evening News reporter Jim Axelrod reported (and blogged about) an interview with the owner, Mike Vasaya, in which he said he was simply trying to keep customers away - always a good approach for a business - since he was out of gas.

I noticed almost immediately a lot of those cinema-verite style BP ads touting its environmental consciousness have started running again. Was it in reaction to the idea that price gouging may be associated with the company? Perhaps.

In a related story, BP announced in a news release on its Website that they were contributing $1 million to hurricane relief efforts.

We'll see if that's enough to erase the image of the "sign seen 'round the world" that was seen by millions.

UPDATE: 9/5/05: The above picture remains the second most emailed photographs on the Internet, according to Yahoo!

Saturday, September 03, 2005


Your city has just been devastated by a massive natural disaster. So what do you do? Why, you swear on local radio and condemn the president of the United States, of course.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, employing several colorful expletives, went on a local AM radio station Friday to condemn the president and federal authorities whom he believed had botched the rescue operation.

And maybe they had. That remains to be seen. The fact is, an unprecedented amount of
supplies were arriving almost as he was on the air. Still, questions remain of FEMA and state emergency agencies, and they will be answered in due time.

While it may be understandable for Nagin to react emotionally to a delay in supplies reaching the beleaguered city, it's not okay to lash out publicly in this manner during a crisis if he's it's leader.

Whether you're the spokesman of a company in trouble or a city in chaos, it's important to convey calm and control, and if urgency needs to be conveyed, it should be done calmly, competently, forcefully and eloquently.

For a public official to publicly "lose it" is the worst possible outcome. It conveys a sense of panic in the individual, and does not reasure others that all will turn out well in the end.

Regardless of the circumstance, a crisis management spokesman must keep his or her "cool" at all times.