Shel Holtz on JetBlue’s PR

    March 1, 2007

UPDATE:: Jenny Dervin has clarified her comments in a post to the PRWeek blog; thanks to Rob Clark for pointing out in a comment to this post.

The salient paragraph: ““Every industry has an ambulance chaser segment, and in crisis situations, this is the group that smells blood and goes in for the kill. I was addressing my comments to those people, who probably don’t even read PRWeek, because they are only interested in the next big company to list on their website.” I wonder if any of those who contacted JetBlue had genuinely good advice and didn’t fit into this category.

I’ve been mostly complimentary about JetBlue’s handling of its crisis (here and here). From a crisis communication standpoint, the company has done most things right. There are things the company could have handled better and some actions it missed altogether. I’m hardly alone in noting the missed opportunities and suggesting ways to improve the airlines’ communication to passengers and prospective passengers. Communication and marketing bloggers have been all over this story, running the gamut from Seth Godin to Shel Israel, from BusinessWeek to Crisisblogger Gerald Baron.

I don’t think anybody at JetBlue is listening, though, so don’t expect any of these suggestions to find their way into the airlines’ mix of strategies. They don’t want to hear it.

In fact, according to an article in this week’s issue of PRWeek, anybody who contacted the airline with suggestions is now persona non grata.

Jenny Dervin, director of communications at JetBlue, is quoted tossing off this gem:

JetBlue corporate communications does not have a PR AOR, nor do we ever intend on getting one. Those agencies that felt the need to contact our CEO and the corporate communications department directly, telling us exactly what we were doing wrong, were not helpful, and they are all going to go on a special list that I’m going to share with my colleagues in the PR industry, encouraging them never to do business with those companies.

Let me get this straight. A communications professional watching the crisis effort unfold sees a gaping hole in the plan (e.g., the CEO’s pseudo blog has not been updated since February 1 and allows no comments) and has the nerve, the temerity, the balls to pick up the phone and offer up a suggestion. For his trouble, he gets put on Jenny Dervin’s blacklist. It must be that Jenny and her team of seven full-time communicators have all the answers and don’t need any advice from anybody else. That must be why…

  • When the blog was finally updated, it was with a verbatim copy of the email that JetBlue had distributed
  • The email, addressed to passengers, went to people who had never flown JetBlue, and in some cases was sent multiple times to the same email address
  • No commenting was opened up on CEO Dave Neeleman’s blog despite the fact that allowing passengers to vent, to get their frustrations off their chests, might have been the smartest communication tactic JetBlue could have employed
  • It was never suggested that passengers stuck on planes that icy February day be given free flights for a year, or 40 free flights (Godin’s suggestion), or some other remarkable compensation that would have turned the conversation completely around
  • Neeleman’s “Late Show with David Letterman” appearance featured an uncomfortable Neeleman dodging Letterman’s questions, clearly based on a briefing he’d had with a communiations staffer who told him, “Whatever you’re asked, here’s what you say…” (It’s immortalized on YouTube, of course…here are part 1 and part 2.)
  • The JetBlue Hostage blog is alive and well

It must be nice to know everything so you don’t have to welcome any recommendations from well-meaning professionals who may actually know what they’re talking about. Or maybe there’s some other channel Ms. Dervin would prefer people take. Carrier pigeon, perhaps? In any case, my esteem for JetBlue has plummeted after reading Ms. Dervin’s arrogant tirade. If there’s anybody I wouldn’t want to work with, it’s someone who thinks she has nothing to learn. That puts her at the top of my new list.


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