On February 11, JetBlue Airways, one of America's most wallet-friendly airlines, had a lot to celebrate.
Not only had it reached its five-year anniversary, but the past four years had been spent turning a profit, making it the first airline to become a major carrier in only five years.
With the company's future looking brighter every day, Jet-Blue wanted to thank the people who had helped to keep it in blue skies and black margins. Realizing that it owed its success to its customers just as much as to its crew, the airline needed to express its gratitude in a big way.
JetBlue opted to tackle the festivities with a trifold approach, starting in January with a month of "Take 5" sales fares to garner initial media attention. As the actual anniversary approached, it wanted to do something more visible to the public, which would also give it a firsthand opportunity to see the buzz it had spent five years creating.
"At heart, it was really about a connection with the customers," says Gareth Edmondson-Jones, VP of corporate communications at JetBlue (who left the airline in April to return to his native Australia). "We wanted to do something as a commemoration of our milestones."
Reinforcing its relationship as New York's hometown airline, it decided to give away 500 free trips to New Yorkers around the flagship city, followed by a more internally driven reception for employees at JFK International Airport featuring food vendors, more giveaways, and speeches by the CEO and COO. With a little something for everyone in store and a framework laid out, JetBlue could begin adding in personal touches.
JetBlue sent out media advisories to local news organizations and did radio promotions, hoping that word-of-mouth would do most of the advertising for the company.
For the February 11 ticket giveaway, hopefuls were instructed to line up at the designated location for each borough of New York City dressed as their favorite JetBlue destinations, bringing a food item to donate to City Harvest Food Bank. The ESPN Zone in Manhattan, the Queens Center Mall, the Staten Island Mall, Junior's Cheesecakes in Brooklyn, and the Unity Coffee Shop in the Bronx all took part in the giveaway.
"It's one thing to put your name on a sheet of paper and put it into a raffle bin, but it's more fun to get people to engage in it and become interactive," says Brandon Hamm, JetBlue's corporate communications manager.
On the day of the events, JetBlue ran a full-page ad in The New York Times, thanking its crew for its dedication. Employees from around the US flew in to JFK to hear the big bosses speak, and customers joined in and were rewarded with free tickets and food.
"The whole celebration was just viral," says Edmondson-Jones. "When we started getting e-mails from friends and family, we knew we'd reached people."
More than 1,500 New Yorkers came for the ticket giveaway, dressed as everything from Florida oranges to slot machines, bringing 1,450 pounds of food for charity, and even more valuable input. "People want to share their experience with you - the good, the bad, and the ugly," says Hamm. "It's a great way for us to get customer feedback, so it works both ways."
The JFK event received AP coverage of the thousands of staffers in attendance, and the Take 5 fares saw three days of record sales. The celebration went over so well that JetBlue wanted to do even more to reward its best customers, the TrueBlue members. So a final five-day online giveaway was added, garnering 3.4 million hits on the first day.
In keeping with its history of growth, JetBlue says the key to the future is "more." The carrier hopes that some of the vibe from the New York anniversary will follow it to the airline's relatively new Boston market as it shifts its focus eastward.
"We had [time] to reflect, but there's hundreds of planes on order, so we're excited for phase two," says Edmondson-Jones.
PR team: JetBlue Airways in-house staff (Forest Hills, NY)
Campaign: Take 5 Promotion
Time frame: January to March 2005
Budget: about $10,000