US Airways and America West merger aided by multi-faceted comms strategy

WASHINGTON: The May merger of US Airways and America West was a delicate exercise in targeted messaging to a wildly disparate group of stakeholders. And much communication remains to be done before the new and improved US Airways becomes a reality.

WASHINGTON: The May merger of US Airways and America West was a delicate exercise in targeted messaging to a wildly disparate group of stakeholders. And much communication remains to be done before the new and improved US Airways becomes a reality.

America West worked with Hill & Knowlton on the deal, and US Airways used Burson-Marsteller, its agency for more than a year.

Richard Mintz, Burson's MD of public affairs, called the execution of the merger between bankrupt US Airways and successful discount carrier AmWest "about as complicated as it gets."

Among the most pressing issues that the agencies and in-house communicators had to address were the possible antitrust implications of the merger, employee concerns over merged seniority lists and layoffs, and an investment community that had to be convinced that the new airline could emerge from bankruptcy and turn a profit in an industry wracked by high gas prices and shaky business models.

"What [stakeholders] are going to get is a more stable, more competitive national carrier," said Mintz.

Already, airline unions have criticized US Airway's proposed severance packages for executives. Mintz acknowledged that employee communications surrounding the deal is "a very touchy situation," but said that the airline's position is bolstered by the very real possibility it faced of going out of business, creating many more layoffs than the merger will.

"Our employees have been through a lot these past few years," said Chris Chiames, US Airways' SVP of corporate affairs. "[They] have responded very favorably to the news, because it really secures the future of the company and a majority of the employees' jobs."

US Government regulators and bankruptcy court must now approve the deal. Burson has turned its primary focus to helping secure that approval. "Our focus is going to be sitting down with each of the regulators and explaining the finer points of the deal," Mintz said.

Both H&K and Burson are continuing their work with the airlines as the approval process moves forward. No decision has been made on possible agency consolidations after the merger is completed.

Mintz said that Judi Mackie, director of H&K's corporate and financial practice, led that agency's work out of New York. Mackie did not return calls seeking comment.

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