United's PR head to run ads too, under new structure

CHICAGO: United Airlines is putting its former head of PR in charge of both PR and advertising as part of a new management structure.

CHICAGO: United Airlines is putting its former head of PR in charge of both PR and advertising as part of a new management structure.

Effective July 13, John Kiker, formerly VP of corporate communications, will add the title of VP of advertising. Not coincidentally, that's the day James Goodwin, United's president, will take over as chairman and CEO of the air carrier and its parent, UAL Corp.

Kiker's new role is part of a broader management change instituted by Goodwin that includes adding a VP of customer satisfaction. 'This is really Jim's idea of the way the company should be structured,' said Andy Plews, general manager of media relations. Kiker was not granting interviews, and will not speak publicly until after he assumes the post.

One thing is for certain: Kiker has a broad array of communications issues to confront. Congress has considered passing measures in response to consumer complaints about poor service and bad customer relations. Due to growing concerns about industry profitability, airline stocks haven't fared well on Wall Street recently. And United has had its share of labor problems.

Given the wide range of issues facing United, putting a PR person in charge of advertising makes sense, according to Tom Harris, longtime Chicago PR pro and advocate of integrated marketing communications. A PR person is often 'more sensitive to issues, more attuned than your typical advertising person,' he said. This sentiment is echoed by Chuck Werle, president of Werle & Associates, who said he often provided a PR perspective for United when he worked at Leo Burnett, the airline's former ad agency. 'A PR person has the savvy to recognize the good and bad of a campaign,' he explained.

United needs to address customer service issues. 'It doesn't seem to have the customer feeling (loyalty) it used to have,' said Werle, who believes that the first PR effort from the new Goodwin team should include talk about a renewed commitment to customers.

Kiker will report to senior VP of marketing, Graham Atkinson, but he will also work directly with Goodwin on corporate communications issues.

Kiker's new domain includes media relations, employee communications, community support and promotions.

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