JetBlue's Spiegel on Coping With Crisis

Marketing VP Tells ANA Forum That Surviving Disaster Means Going Back to Core Values

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For seven-year-old JetBlue Airways, Feb. 14 started out as an ice storm and turned into a full week of cancellations and delays that could have ruined anything but the most well-established and trusted of companies.
Andrea Spiegel, VP-sales and marketing at JetBlue
Andrea Spiegel, VP-sales and marketing at JetBlue

"Call it the perfect storm, the imperfect storm, the Valentine's Day Massacre," said JetBlue VP-sales and marketing, Andrea Spiegel at the ANA Brand Innovation Forum. Whatever it was, all the digital TV channels, satellite-radio stations, free sodas and snacks in the world couldn't have made it any better. For a company that was, Ms. Spiegel said, "getting a little fat and happy," the only way to survive the disaster was to go back to its core brand values. Fortunately, the airline hadn't strayed far from them to begin with.

"We promised to bring humanity back to air travel. The mission is the same today," Ms. Spiegel told the audience. "Our response was a direct expression of our brand: We brought humanity to a crisis."

Trickle-down respect
For a company that believes in trickle-down respect (i.e., respect your crewmembers -- as employees are called -- and they, in turn, will treat customers with respect and kindness), the first step was to reach out to employees via videos and e-mails. JetBlue also took a unique step in transparency. After posting letters to consumers online, CEO David Neeleman posted a video on YouTube -- where it was sure to get viral coverage -- in which he said: "As with any challenge, there are two things you can do: You can ignore it and pretend like it was an aberration, or you can do an examination and determine if there is something you can do internally to make sure that that never happens again."

Mr. Neeleman outlined several things the company would do to make things better, including a Customer Bill of Rights. A month later, he went back on YouTube to tell consumers what the company had accomplished. Nothing says "We care about our customers" like accountability.

According to JetBlue, four days following the Valentine's Day disaster, one-third of focus-group consumers said it could have happened to any airline. Some six weeks later, that number had jumped to 44%. Moreover, 16% said they did not blame JetBlue, up from 10% initially. According to the company, bookings were up double digits in the second half of February compared with the same period last year.

The message: How you handle adversity is part of your brand. "Build your brand with times like these in mind," Ms. Spiegel said. "Stay true to it, build it on the outside and the inside, stay focused on getting the simple things right, but continue to move forward."
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