Women to Watch 2007

Joanne Smith

Delta Air Lines

By Published on .

NEXT: Marta Wohrle

When a company files for bankruptcy protection, it needs to start getting creative to escape its financial doldrums. Joanne Smith took that literally at Delta Air Lines.

Joanne Smith, senior VP-in-flight service and global product development, Delta Air Lines


As VP-marketing at the nation's third-largest airline, Ms. Smith turned to Hollywood last year as a way to promote the carrier and its new in-flight system of live TV, movies, music and video games.

"Entertainment is a good way to connect with our target market," says Ms. Smith, who's relying on entertainment on and off Delta's planes to stand out from the competition and get customers to consider the airline. "We can use it to get their attention better."

That meant upping Delta's presence at last January's Sundance Film Festival, an event that it's sponsored for five years. This year, Delta partnered with Gen Art to produce the Delta Sky Lodge, which showed off the airline's new in-flight offerings and served as a location for celebrity-packed parties. With Gen Art, Delta also launched a filmmaking contest, with short movies screened online and on its planes.

Ms. Smith's other efforts have included working with Creative Artists Agency to land the airline on Bravo's reality show "Project Runway" and broker a deal with HBO to show the pay-cable channel's content on flights. Events and a travel-related podcast, featuring Delta's flight attendants, have also been part of the plan.

It's a strategy Ms. Smith, 48, adopted earlier for Song, the low-cost airline that Delta launched in 2003 but ultimately grounded in 2006. And it's one that seems to be working: Traffic to Delta.com, revenue and bookings are up.

As Song's VP-marketing and customers, Ms. Smith made the carrier's entertainment offerings the focus of its marketing. Song was even showcased on "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart."

The effort got Ms. Smith promoted to president of Song before the airline merged into Delta.

"Under her leadership, Delta has built an industry-leading in-flight entertainment offering through partnerships with HBO and the studios, and has developed unique, brand-building marketing efforts with programs like 'Project Runway,' " says Scott Pruitt, an agent at CAA.

Delta isn't Ms. Smith's first airline experience. She came to Delta from DHL Airways. Earlier in her work life she was a flight attendant.

In April, Ms. Smith was promoted to senior VP for in-flight service and global product development at Delta, a position in which she'll continue to partner with Hollywood. "Once you start it, you realize how successful and interesting it can be," she says. "You just don't want to stop."
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