Comms plays key role as Skybus Airlines takes off

COLUMBUS, OH: Recently launched Skybus Airlines has put a high premium on communications to both drive ticket sales and address questions regarding its uncommon business model.

COLUMBUS, OH: Recently launched Skybus Airlines has put a high premium on communications to both drive ticket sales and address questions regarding its uncommon business model.

Like Virgin America, introduced last month, Skybus is a low-fare air-travel alternative. Unlike Virgin, which has emphasized its in-flight extras, Skybus takes a no-frills approach to amenities. Though this model - favored by discount European airlines such as Ryanair - has been embraced overseas, it's far less familiar to US consumers.

From the start, Skybus has been careful to convey messages about both its value fares and brand differences, said Bob Tenenbaum, senior counselor at the Milenthal Group (MG), the airline's AOR.

Skybus drew media attention and word-of-mouth buzz, he said, with its guarantee that at least 10 seats on every flight would be available for $10.

Of equal importance, however, are the facts that Skybus tickets can only be bought via the airline's Web site, and all amenities are a la carte. If not tackled directly through proactive media outreach, these Skybus-specific traits are potentially confusing for first-time passengers, and prime targets for critique.

"Rather than approaching these things defensively, we felt it was an opportunity to deliver a positive message," Tenenbaum said. To do this, MG has worked with travel, business, and general-market media including NBC Nightly News, CNN, USA Today, and the LA Times to book journalists on flights, and communicate passengers' real-life stories.

The airline also generates ancillary revenue via marketing- and advertising-partner relationships, added Tenenbaum.

Next week, for example, Skybus is adding additional service and a game-ticket offer for travelers attending the September 15 Ohio State University (OSU)-University of Washington football game in Seattle. Publicized through OSU athletics and alumni publications, sports blogs, and regional media, efforts such as these not only help keep fares low, Tenenbaum said, but also help the airline forge meaningful connections with previously underserved audiences.

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