JetBlue Names Mullen Creative and Media Agency

Hotly Contested Pitch Included Hill Holliday, Goodby, Tribal DDB and Grey

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- JetBlue Airways has tapped Boston-based Mullen as its new creative and media advertising agency after a five-month-long review. The Interpublic Group of Cos.' shop replaces WPP's JWT, which handled creative duties for the budget airline since 2005, and JetBlue's media agency, JWT sibling Mediacom.

Forest Hills, N.Y.-based JetBlue and JWT split last November despite a four-year run marked by JetBlue doubling its presence to 60 markets and earning a dedicated terminal at New York's JFK airport. The airline embarked on a pitch process one month later, and according to several industry executives close to the pitch, the five finalists competing for the account were: Mullen and Interpublic sibling Hill Holliday; Omnicom Group agencies Goodby Silverstein & Partners and Tribal DDB; and WPP's Grey, New York.

In a statement, Marty St. George, senior VP-marketing and commercial strategy for JetBlue, said: "Not only does Mullen have a strong record of success supporting brands such as Zappos and Panera Bread, they are an outstanding cultural fit for JetBlue. We are particularly impressed by their retail focus and their strong track record at creating truly integrated marketing platforms. We believe they will deliver a unique and fresh perspective that will enhance the vitality of our brand."

The airline industry continues to be an embattled sector overall, with big players such as Continental Airlines and United Airlines continuing to merge. Last week, JetBlue reported that it swung to a first-quarter loss of $1 million, compared to a profit of $12 million in the year-ago period.

Digital-savvy reputation
JetBlue's marketing strategy leans heavily on digital channels, and its measured media spending has remained at a conservative $25 million to $30 million for the past several years, according to Kantar Media.

The brand has earned a reputation for being savvy about using social media as part of its marketing and, as such, Mr. St. George frequently posted on Twitter throughout the review process about making agency visits, in the past month stating the company was in the "home stretch" -- uncharacteristically transparent behavior for marketers during a pitch process.

At one point, Mr. St. George, who uses the handle @martysg, decided to test the digital savvy of agencies vying for the airline's marketing account by tweeting: "We're pitching our advertising AOR. Curious on digital savvy ... first test is how many of the agencies will find me on Twitter." (Mullen had been following Mr. St. George already.)

For Mullen, the win means adding another high-profile brand to its client roster, following its win of the Zappos account last fall. Mullen was ultimately named the online retailer's new ad agency after a much-watched and controversial review that encompassed more than 100 shops. In that review, too, the client cited Mullen's culture as a leading reason for selecting the agency.

Forthcoming campaign
At Mullen, the pitch was led by Alex Leikikh, managing partner-director of account service, and creative chief Mark Wenneker. The JetBlue business will be run by a creative team Mullen hired from Boston-based Modernista in January, Tim Vaccarino and Dave Weist, and on the media side by John Moore, Mullen's director of media services, and Julie Coulton, Mullen's director of digital media.

"Digital is a big component" of the forthcoming campaign, said Mr. Leikikh; other channels that will be used as part of the marketing effort are still being determined. JetBlue and Mullen are holding meetings this week to decide when a new advertising effort will begin rolling out.

However, a JetBlue spokeswoman noted that the "Happy Jetting" tagline, which was created by JWT, will remain intact.

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