PLAYER PROFILE: AMERICA WEST'S FORD EYES BRANDING, NOT PRICE ADS: AIR CARRIER'S AD DIRECTOR MAY HAVE A NEW AGENCY PARTNER TO REACH GOAL

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America west Airlines' Russell Ford is looking to lead the carrier's advertising in a new direction.

The ninth-largest U.S. airline, America West serves most of the U.S. but has remained largely focused on retail sale ads-something Mr. Ford, the new director of advertising, expects to change.

Shortly after Mr. Ford, 34, arrived in mid-July, America West's $24 million account, currently held by Team One, El Segundo, Calif., a unit of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, went into review.

"It was a joint decision with senior management," Mr. Ford said. "As we look to the future, we needed to make sure we have the right agency."

He noted the team that originally selected Team One, which has held the business for about two years, was no longer in place at the airline.

30 AGENCIES INVITED

More than 30 agencies, including the incumbent, have been invited to participate, with New York- and Dallas-based Achenbaum Bogda Associates as the consultant. A first cut is planned for later this month, to 10 or 12 agencies, and a final decision is expected by mid-November.

Currently, a humorous national TV campaign for America West's vacation golf packages airs during golf tournaments and will continue running through yearend. The spots feature a man disguised as either a tree or a chipmunk to get access to a golf course.

"Branding is something we're looking at more seriously, and considering," Mr. Ford said. "That way, consumers are less likely to be swayed by cost considerations. We're very retail-oriented right now."

LOW-FARE, FULL-SERVICE

America West's low-fare, full-service approach is a bit of an anomaly in an industry that tends to focus on either discount fares or service alone as a strategy.

Business travelers are now being targeted by the airline as well, even as the carrier reported its second-highest earnings in the second quarter and record passenger traffic in June, up 10.1% from June 1996. America West also reported record year-to-date passenger traffic, up 10.5% over the same period through June '96.

BUILDING BOND WITH BUSINESS FLIERS

"Every airline is going after the corporate business traveler, but there is still some low-hanging fruit we can pick up," Mr. Ford said, adding that there will be an attempt to begin building an "emotional bond" with business travelers by early 1998.

Nonetheless, despite new efforts, the airline's budget is expected to stay level at about $24 million for the coming year, though "refocused."

Mr. Ford, formerly manager of advertising at American Airlines, sees his new post as a growth opportunity, both for himself and the airline.

"American's marketing maturity is much more advanced than America West," he said. "It will be fun to come in and really shape the airline, whereas American was already so entrenched."

Still, the executive counted American's sponsorship of the 1994 World Cup, and his direction of it with a 22-department task force across the nine-city event, as one of his greatest achievements.

"It was the largest sponsorship ever for American and allowed them to generate immediate name recognition and credibility in Latin America, where they'd just built new service," he said.

Mr. Ford "brings a fresh approach and different perspective to things," said Joette Schmidt, America West's senior director of passenger sales, who previously worked with Mr. Ford at American.

Ms. Schmidt said that will help 14-year-old America West, which she compared to "a person ending adolescence and coming into young adulthood."

EXPANDING SERVICE

With the Midwest and East Coast important for growth, the airline is about to add increased service in Florida, with four new markets by the end of October. Second flights into Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore also are planned.

Mr. Ford said America West is "very well-positioned for growth in the short and long term. Any airline, to be profitable, has to keep growing. There are higher yields on longer-haul traffic, and we're doing more there."

Prior to entering the airline industry, Mr. Ford spent several years at ad agencies, working as an account exec and, eventually, working on the American account at Bozell in Dallas. That's when he was seduced by the allure of the industry.

"There's a glamor to it, to see new cities and cultures through flying," he said. "And it's such a dynamic industry-you have to stay on top of what everybody's doing and be able to adapt within 24 hours. It changes quickly and

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