Virgin Atlantic Airways

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All that needs to be said about Virgin Atlantic Airways is: Delay announcements at its London Heathrow executive lounge are likely to be greeted with applause.

With full-body massages, hair cuts and a music room, what's the rush?

It's an indulge-and-entertain mantra that has allowed Virgin to enter the hearts and minds of new economy business travelers. If the colorful owner Richard Branson is the inspiration for Virgin's experiential marketing, then Exec VP David Tait is the architect.

Mr. Tait started as the airline's first employee, before it launched in 1984. He carefully captains the airline's image-making efforts, which last year took on even more of a Hollywood feel due to a tie-in with "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" and Mike Myers, the actor who played the main characters.

The $8 million-to-$10 million campaign linking Virgin with the movie augmented the airline's hip image in an out-of-home campaign in New York and six other markets. The cheeky effort, created by CMG Communications, New York, rebranded Virgin as "Virgin Shaglantic" and featured phrases such as "There's only one virgin on this billboard, baby!"

"It was fun, irreverent and British," Mr. Tait says.

The push followed an early 1999 campaign seeking to fortify the link between Virgin and its London destination. That initiative offered the catchphrase: "Fly to London Virgin."

Last fall, the airline expanded to its eighth U.S. market when it launched service to Chicago. In typical Virgin fashion, the airline leaked word it had hired a major sports star to serve as spokesman, bringing speculation that Michael Jordan was on board. Instead, the airline offered David Williams, a youth basketball league star.

Mr. Tait doesn't just create headlines. He builds the bottom line. As competitor British Airways fired its CEO, Robert Ayling, and had its worst financial annual performance since 1982, Virgin is expected to post profits somewhere in the neighborhood of the $160 million it had in 1998.

That comes on the back of an ad budget of $18 million. "It's a drop in the ocean if you spread it around the markets we're in and look at what our competitors are spending," Mr. Tait says.

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