Do it like JetBlue

February 20, 2007

In case you missed it, JetBlue suffered a major brand crisis this past week after an ice storm hit the Eastern United States and the airline failed to properly respond due to a communications meltdown. Nine planes sat on New York’s JFK tarmac for six hours or more. Nearly a quarter of its flights had to be canceled even days later and service to 11 cities was shutdown entirely.

While other airlines cancelled flights ahead of the storm, JetBlue rolled the dice and came up more than short. An all-out consumer revolt, a media frenzy and a stock collapse has since ensued.

JetBlue is a strong brand founded by a charismatic leader (David Neeleman) and is focused on low prices. Once flying high, the JetBlue brand has come crashing down to earth. The JetBlue brand, which was used to being cited as a favorite among passengers and stock analysts alike, has suddenly fallen from grace.

So what should JetBlue do? Exactly what they are doing. In my opinion, their response will become a textbook case for how to solve a PR problem. Much like the Tylenol case in the 80’s. “We’ll do it like JetBlue” is bound to be the rallying cry of future brand leaders.

Here are the steps to follow so you can do it like JetBlue if your brand faces a similar PR crisis:

1: Admit your mistake and apologize publicly immediately.

Brands need a strong spokesperson to pull this off. Sending out a press release will just not do. You need a well-known leader the public trusts to make the media rounds and eat crow.

David’s first move was to talk with The New York Times. The front-page story that ran quotes David as being “humiliated and mortified” by the breakdown in airline operations. Brilliant! Since then he has been speaking to almost every media outlet in town. Brilliant! The public likes nothing better that seeing and hearing an apology straight from the horse’s mouth.

2: Do something.

After a few days of hearing how sorry David is, the apology can wear thin and feel more like he is trying to save his stock options than the brand’s credibility with consumers. So after saying sorry, the brand needs to do something big.

Today JetBlue has done just this by rolling out a customer bill of rights that promises to compensate customers for delays. Brilliant!

3: Don’t advertise at all.

The worst mistake companies make is trying to use advertising to save the company’s reputation. After an E.Coli outbreak, Taco Bell ran full-page ads saying “Taco Bell food is safe to eat.” Yeah right, thinks the public.

Advertising is great for getting a message out to the masses quickly. But advertising lacks credibility. So it is not an effective way to educate or reassure consumers of anything.

The best thing to do is halt all advertising until the crisis cools down. Any ads that run during the crisis will just remind people of your problems without changing any minds. Even if the ads simply say your are sorry, they will unlikely ring true.

4: Give it time.

The best medicine for any PR crisis is time. Over time people are more than likely to forget about whatever has happened. Over time, if you don’t mess up again, people are willing to forgive. Over time what is left is your brand message in the mind. If you have a strong brand, you will survive just fine. Tylenol did and so will JetBlue.

Build a strong brand in the mind and if the unthinkable happens just follow these four steps so you can do it like JetBlue and survive too.