Marquis Jet Flies High With 'Entourage' Placement

Q&A: CMO Ken Austin on Catering to the 'Sexiest People in the World' in Times of Austerity

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NEW YORK ( -- Any luxury brand worth its weight in cashmere would shell out thousands from its marketing budget to get name-checked by "Entourage" agent Ari Gold faster than you can say, "Let's hug it out, bitch." But when the high-powered Hollywood player mentioned Marquis Jet founder Kenny Dichter by name several weeks back on the hit HBO comedy, the leading private jet-card company got prime exposure without paying a dime.
Ken Austin
Ken Austin

Ken Austin, Marquis Jet's chief marketing officer, said the shout-out and the brand's recurring "role" on "Entourage" were all pitched directly by Doug Ellin, the show's executive producer and creator. Mr. Ellin, along with fellow exec producer Stephen Levinson, initiates all product placements and brand mentions directly with the marketers themselves as they interest him, with no money changing hands. In the case of Marquis Jet, the airline card company's private aviation provider, NetJets, began its relationship with the show last season, which expanded this season after the company provided Mr. Ellin and the show's cast and crew with aircraft to shoot key scenes.

The "Entourage" relationship marks a rare foray into brand integrations, which Marquis Jet has done sparingly since its involvement with Donald Trump's "Apprentice," an exposure that earned the company upward of $5 million from the first season alone. But earlier this month, the company launched an on-air and online cross-promotion with CNBC's "Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge," awarding the winner of the financial news network's contest a free 10-hour Marquis Jet Card.

The Marquis Jet Card is the exclusive card for NetJets, the Berkshire Hathaway-owned private jet company that gives cardholders access to thousands of airports in North America, Europe and beyond, with guaranteed availability in as little as 10 hours' notice. Cardmembers buy hours of flights rather than dollar amounts, with new memberships starting at 25 hours.

Ari Gold aside, Mr. Austin is currently focused on redefining the value of a private jet card, particularly at a time when the CEOs of domestic automotive companies are being scrutinized for using luxury travel while their industry goes bankrupt. Because of the newly negative connotation associated with private aviation, Mr. Austin and his team have recast their marketing strategy to be less aspirational and more practical. A new series of print ads running in newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times features a picture of the Marquis Jet member card accompanied by the tagline "Safety. Service. Strength. Value."

Mr. Austin leads a five-person in-house marketing team that creates all the company's print and TV campaigns as well as negotiating entertainment integrations and partnerships, reporting to NetJets CEO Richard Santulli.

Madison & Vine spoke with Mr. Austin recently to gain insight into how the company measures the effectiveness of its marketing initiatives, its current success despite the economic downturn and the precautions he's taking in marketing a premium product during times of extreme financial duress.
MarquisJet ad

This new MarquisJet ad is running in the NYT and the Wall Street Journal.

M&V: How do your latest partnerships with CNBC and "Entourage" tie in to your overall marketing strategy?

Mr. Austin: CNBC was a very natural fit for us. We look at CNBC today as the equivalent to CNN during Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield. In a way it's fortuitous timing for us given the financial climate, especially looking at the markets even today. It couldn't be better timing for people to be tuning in, it's a truly premium climate that really hits our target audience. These are people who are certainly high-net-worth folks looking for business news, so it's really a perfect fit.

In terms of "Entourage," [Doug Ellin] selected Marquis just like he selected Apple. We don't pay anything to be integrated into "Entourage," he picked us because of scripts that required aviation. They put us on last season and again this season, and I believe we'll be on one more time. The only thing we do for "Entourage" is we make sure aircraft are there for them to shoot. There are certain shows we turn down, as we've had lots of offers since we were on "The Apprentice" in the first season.

M&V: How do you track the success of all these integrations and initiatives?

Mr. Austin: We won't be tracking CNBC or "Entourage" specifically, but lots of people come to us through the Marquis Jet website. We do a lot of online due diligence. The average Marquis owner is about 48 years old, they're very online-savvy. So when we're doing due diligence, many times they tell us exactly how they come to us, what was the lead source. We have separate 800 numbers for every single lead source to help quantify the results.

M&V: How has the financial crisis affected your marketing strategy?

Mr. Austin: I think it's very important to be sensitive to these things in every company, especially as a shareholder of a lot of these companies personally who happens to be with the Marquis Jet Card. Eighty percent of our customers use their Marquis Jet Card for leisure, 20% use it for business.

M&V: What considerations have you taken from a creative standpoint? Have you had to retool some of your messaging to reflect the necessity vs. the luxury associated with private aviation?

Mr. Austin: We've dramatically changed it in the past couple months. The bottom line is most Marquis ads have been about lifestyle -- the choice to speed up life or slow it down, the choice to miss less, and really very powerful statements sort of showing the families together, the opportunity to be home together.

Two or three years ago, it might have been about flying to Mexico but making it home in time for your son's birthday. Now it's a bit more serious. Our headline is "Safety. Service. Strength. Value." Four key words, and we write about each one. The safety we provide, the strength of our company, the service we deliver and the value. Value is not necessarily price -- you get what you pay for. It's much more about quality and value vs. "get away because you want to be with the kids, " even though that's what we all want to do at the end of the day. The tonality's totally different, and the response has been terrific.

M&V: You must get pitched on integrations all the time. How do you determine what makes the most sense from a brand perspective?

Mr. Austin: We're very careful as a brand. Given the fact that we work with NetJets CEO Richard Santulli and Warren Buffett, we can't be tarnishing the brand. We consult with Richard Santulli on every decision we make from a marketing perspective. We probably fly the sexiest people in the world in the sexiest business in the world. So a lot of opportunities come to us just from our customers. We're constantly looking for things, but we turn down 99.5 out of 100 things we get offered.
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