April 13, 2010

Jet Rouge... Come what may


By Miriam Silverberg, Publicist

Freedom, Beauty, Truth & Love

I have been avidly following Jet Blue's public relations problems and it does my heart good. Not because I take pleasure in their misfortune. Not at all. But because they are actually doing everything right. Finally, a large company that is standing up and saying, "we goofed."

David Neeleman, the CEO, is brilliant or else he has brilliant people advising him, but someone is brilliant. Going back a number of years, Johnson & Johnson was another company that did everything right when one of their over-the-counter painkillers was found to be tampered with. They voluntarily recalled everything, cooperated fully with the authorities and were forthright and honest in dealing with the media. And I believe they may have taken care of the medical bills of people who were harmed by the product.


One day I'll fly away. Leave all this to yesterday.

Today Taco Bell is also handling things well with their unwanted visitors (creepy crawl relatives of Mickey Mouse from the trashy side of the family). I saw a big ad assuring people the problem was under control and everything would be cleaned and sterilized before reopening. The ad also explained the R-things were coming from a building next door under renovation.

As a publicist who often assists (or tries to) in damage control, I always run up against the idea that you can't admit you're wrong. Why not? When Kennedy was running for president, there was a spy plane that was shot down in Russian skies. Eisenhower refused to admit it was ours and Kennedy said we should admit we did it and it was wrong. That was so refreshing. Of course, he wasn't yet in office and wasn't admitting his mistakes.


The "show" must go on.

Politicians never admit to being wrong. But one of the best, former Mayor LaGuardia, admitted his mistake. During the WWII, the newspapers went on strike and he went on radio Sunday morning to read the funnies to the kids. Forgetting that the stores on the Lower East Side were open on Sunday, he announced that starting Monday shoes would be rationed. Everybody raced down to the Lower East Side to stock up on shoes and the police had to be called out to restore order. LaGuardia said later, "boy, when I make a mistake, it's a beaut."

Just think if this carried over to other large corporations admitting they're wrong. Can you imagine hospital administrators admitting the hospital actually did something wrong? The administrator calls a press conference to admit a mistake was made? I can envision the administrator or, better yet, the doctor, standing facing down a crowd of reporters and bravely admitting, "mistakes were made."


"Got some Dark Desire? Love to play with fire?"

Under the heading of making lemonade out of lemons, the doctor could say that it could happen anywhere and then call for a commission to be made up of representatives of all hospitals to study the problem. I know. I know. Dream on. Actually, I think people are starting to cautiously admit mistakes under some circumstances. Recently I was invited by the manager to lunch at a new "theme" restaurant in Times Square. After lunch the manager asked what I thought and I told him there were problems. He immediately agreed and said I wasn't the first person to mention them. So!

Getting back to Jet Blue, Neeleman is actually showing he cares about his customers (customers' Bill of Rights) and cares about his employees. He promised to change things quickly but he also pledged not to fire anyone. How astonishing--he's actually not using anyone as a scapegoat. He probably will be spending millions on vouchers for free roundtrips but think of all the money he'll be making because I wager he's lost very few customers. Jet Blue may even come out of this better than ever.


The greatest thing you'll ever learn...Is just to Love, and be Loved in return.

And they've learned from their mistakes. In a subsequent ice storm, they quickly cancelled flights. So Jet Blue and Johnson & Johnson are morally and fiscally responsible.

More big companies should be. Madison Avenue could take a page out of Neeleman's handbook, do well by doing good.


Miriam Silverberg is the founder and president of Miriam Silverberg Associates, the Manhattan-based publicity firm with expertise in medical, hospitality, beauty and fashion; including the New York City Ballet. She can be reached at silverbergm@mindspring.com. Also, check out her work in writing and publicity at Marymount Manhattan College.

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