Delta's 19-month comms plan assists in Ch. 11 exit

ATLANTA: With its emergence from bankruptcy and a re-listing on the New York Stock Exchange last week, Delta Air Lines put forth a large-scale communications effort to let consumers and the media know that it planned to return to major-player status in the airline industry.

ATLANTA: With its emergence from bankruptcy and a re-listing on the New York Stock Exchange last week, Delta Air Lines put forth a large-scale communications effort to let consumers and the media know that it planned to return to major-player status in the airline industry.

But while the media's coverage of Delta's emergence story reached its apex last week, the airline's communications efforts have been going on for nearly two years. Kent Landers, director of external communications at Delta, said the airline, which filed for bankruptcy 19 months ago, has spent those months aggressively telling its reinvention story and how it planned to return to a position of "prominence" in the industry.

"We have been telling a consistent story for the past [19] months, and this week is really the culmination and celebration of that," Landers said. "This is an ongoing story... emergence is not the end of a journey. It's not just about this week. It's been about the two years of restructuring that have brought us to this point. So while this was a week to celebrate, it's also a week to gear up for another era of competition."

Among the messages that Delta has been working to convey is that despite the competitive and economic pressures it was under, the airline managed to re-engineer itself in a more efficient manner than most thought possible.

"And through the Chapter 11 process," Landers added, "Delta completely transformed every aspect of the business to provide a better future for employees, new shareholders, and customers."

In preparation for this week, Delta has spent the last month providing access and interviews to key media outlets. Delta's internal team of nearly 30 people has been working with a number of its agencies, including Kekst & Co., Dan Klores Communications (DKC), Jackson Spalding, and RLPR, on these efforts. It also works with 30 agencies worldwide that handle local press in international markets.

Landers said Kekst is working on the financial component while DKC is handling product and lifestyle communications "as it relates to improvements of the Delta product and the remaking of the brand." RLPR, Delta's Hispanic AOR, is doing Hispanic outreach, and Jackson Spalding is working on the "blocking and tackling side of things," Landers said.

The day that it exited bankruptcy, Delta hosted a celebration at its Atlanta headquarters with 3,000 employees and 90 journalists from across the globe. Gerald Grinstein, Delta's CEO, spent time last month on a plane, which displayed the airline's new logo, visiting with employees and local media around the world.

Over the past 19 months, Delta's communications team has also been reshaped. Jeff Battcher, who previously worked at BellSouth, joined two months ago, leading the department as VP of corporate communications. Landers said the team is smaller than it was before filing for bankruptcy.

"We have been through our share of changes, as has the whole company," Landers explained. "There have been a number of downsizing changes throughout the company."

He said the goal is to become more proactive with the media.

"As we enter into a more normal period, we will certainly have to be more aggressive and proactive in telling a story in a more normal time [line]," Landers noted.

The airline's new ad campaign, developed by SS&K, is scheduled to debut this week. (Click below to read this week's Editorial.)

As for what lies ahead for Delta's communications department, Landers said he's hoping for a few minutes of rest.

"As we complete the emergence celebrations and stock exchange re-listing, hopefully there's a brief breather after 19 months of very aggressive work," Landers said. "After filing Chapter 11, fighting off a hostile takeover attempt from US Airways in the fall, and the emergence story, we now have to focus and set our goals on how do we tell Delta's story going forward."

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