Mesa Air Group's new airline, Go!, is making waves in Hawaii. On June 9, it entered the inter-island market with $39 and even $19 one-way fares - much lower than what its entrenched competitors were offering. Community response is favorable, rivals are on the defensive, and industry analysts are buzzing.
Joe Bock leads PR as Go! barrels into the insular market. Bock was a Mesa corporate attorney and also handled some IR and corporate communications until this March when CEO Jonathan Ornstein requested that he manage PR for the airline. Ornstein is very involved in all aspects of his company - including communications - and he and Bock had worked on IR issues. Despite Bock's non-PR background, Ornstein knew he was the right choice.
"Joe came into the job without a lot of PR experience," Ornstein says. " I joke that [he now gets] to be a nice guy in PR. He's smart. He's thorough. He's organized. I knew he could pick [it] up. He's exceeded our expectations."
Mesa started as an independent regional carrier in New Mexico in 1982, but nearly all its $1.3 billion in revenue comes from codeshare deals with America West, Delta, US Airways, and United.
"People don't notice it's our company," Bock says. "Go! is our first big independent-market push. Accordingly, we haven't had an ad or marketing need before."
Honolulu agency Bright Light Marketing Group helped with the launch. President and CEO Lynette Lo Tom says Bock was a great partner. "Everybody was pulling for his attention," she says. "We don't launch a major airline everyday. [Hawaii is] very provincial - it's different from the mainland. Joe truly listened to us. Every minute there was something. It would have killed [a] mere mortal."
Hawaiian and Aloha Airlines have dominated the market, but both recently emerged from Chapter 11. Communications from both are defensive. Aloha even gave away 1,000 tickets with the pointed slogan: "Great GO AWAY Giveaway." Hawaiian and Pacific Wings (a smaller local carrier) both filed suit against Go! Ornstein, who eyed the market for years and even bid for Hawaiian during its reorganization, is acutely aware of market dynamics and the importance of messaging.
"We were an outsider," Ornstein says, "but response has been remarkable. We have a good product and we can sell it. But you have to carefully fashion the position. PR is very important. People need to know that we're respectful of the way business [is done] here. We're trying our best to fit in and be a good corporate citizen."
Until Ornstein arrived in Hawaii for the month of June, Bock was the airline's rep in the community. He's constantly approached when he wears a Go! T-shirt and answers questions all day wherever he goes. He enjoys his new job's "intense interpersonal" aspect.
"People here want to see a face and have someone to turn to and ask about the airline," Bock says. "We're trying to make ourselves as available as possible. Jonathan has always had an open-door policy. He has a public e-mail address and a CEO hotline. The people we serve know best."
Bock notes that habit tends to dominate when people select air carriers, so Go! strives to differentiate itself. Having a popular local band record boarding announcements is one way it does that.
"You hear some reggae, a little R&B, and they give the safety information," he says. "They're funny, personable, and bring a Hawaiian flavor that makes for a different experience."
It's important to keep information flowing and let passengers know they're appreciated, Bock adds. In addition to continued media relations, Bock is working with Ornstein to coordinate print and broadcast ads and with Mesa's VP of corporate planning to develop marketing strategy.
"And I thought I was swamped before," Bock jokes.
Head of PR, marketing, and advertising, Go!
Corporate attorney, Go!
August 2004-April 2005
Law clerk, Mesa Air Group, Phoenix