After surviving many delays, Orbitz site is launched at last

CHICAGO: Orbitz, the long-awaited airline ticket search site, fired

up its launch last week spending half a million dollars on a massive PR


The PR team led by vice president of corporate affairs Carol Jouzaitis

organized a media blitz Monday, June 4 with chairman/CEO Jeffrey Katz

appearing on both CNBC and CNNfn.

Jouzaitis said: "We did media interviews all day Monday, a mid-day

Webcast and a radio media tour with (broadcast commentator) Valarie

D'Elia who is on our consumer advisory board."

Orbitz is said to be allocating a huge portion of its dollars 145

million start-up cost to marketing. Jouzaitis confirmed the dollars

500,000 launch spend on PR, adding, "We did it on a shoestring." The

annual PR spend is not known.

The launch was handled by Ketchum, which was hired in January for

consumer PR. Until then, Orbitz had been using Jouzaitis' former

employer Chicago PR agency, Kemper Lesnick Communications. Ketchum's

sister ad agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day handled the launch advertising.

Ketchum said it was focusing on customer service for the launch and the

period right after to distinguish it from rivals such as

and Microsoft's Expedia. Coverage included mentions of plans to offer

e-mail warnings of delays.

Orbitz scored a largely positive feature in The Wall Street Journal on

June 1, but reporters from most other outlets had questions about the

possibility of antitrust issues raised by its ownership. Orbitz is

backed by American Airlines, Continental, United, Delta and


The site hired Burson-Marsteller in August 2000 to deal with the

regulatory issues which have dogged the site since the airlines agreed

to launch the service back in 1999. The Department of Justice and 20

state attorney generals have been looking into the competitive issues

raised by the fear that Orbitz will offer fares not available


A further blow came last month when Southwest Airlines sued Orbitz,

claiming that the site listed fares at a price higher than was available

at Southwest's own site. The case continues. These, and other unknown

factors, delayed the launch of Orbitz, which was expected to debut last


Jouzaitis, a former Chicago Tribune journalist, has hired two staffers

to work in-house. They are Dawn Doty and Stacey Spencer.

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