PROFILE: Tony Davis, BMI Baby - MD Davis in control as bmi baby launches. Tony Davis maintains his cool as low-cost spin-off takes its first breaths

When PRWeek meets bmi baby's newly appointed MD Tony Davis, he is preparing for the launch of the low-cost carrier, so a degree of panic would be excusable. Instead, he boasts a remarkably calm demeanour, and with good reason - the carrier's first flights departed without a hitch.

It should come as no surprise that the airline launched so flawlessly.

In Davis it boasts an MD who has taken the rare step from the most senior communications role at bmi british midland to head its low-cost spin-off.

He acknowledges that the nature of the business has been important in enabling him to do so. 'In the low-cost airline sector, you are dealing more directly with your passengers, unlike the traditional carriers - they are isolated from them by using travel agents and intermediaries,' he says. 'You need confidence in dealing with people directly. Communications experience can give you that.'

Davis appears just as comfortable in the boardroom as he is in the press office. He has 16 years' experience in the aviation industry and sees no problem in moving back to a more generalist position. 'You have to have a good foundation of general management skills,' he says. 'When I moved into communications originally you could have asked how someone who worked in general aviation management came to be working in PR roles.'

Davis entered the aviation industry at the age of 20 as a reservations agent at British Airways. It was the start of a nine-year stint with the airline, during which time he graduated to a sales and marketing position before being lured to Gulf Air to work on the airline's relationships with other carriers.

Of the decision to leave BA, he says: 'I was about to turn 30 and if I didn't take a chance and move then I would have been relying on my BA pension for the rest of my life.'

Joining Gulf Air was, he adds, a valuable if different experience. 'Moving from a big airline to a relatively small one meant I got my hands dirty; you don't have people to do things for you,' he says.

One of his responsibilities was to manage the airline's partnership with what was then British Midland, with flights to the UK one of the carrier's largest markets.

In 1997 he was poached by British Midland to become director of industry affairs and government relations, the most senior communications position at the airline.

From there, he was asked to oversee the launch of bmi baby, seeking to position it somewhere between Go and Ryanair in the budget airline market.

He acknowledges that start-ups are always in a dangerous position, a risk heightened by the fixed costs that apply to airlines. 'bmi was trying to compete with the low-budget carriers at the same fares but with a traditional structure,' he recalls.

Davis sees East Midlands Airport as an ideal location for a low-budget carrier. 'There is a catchment area that has been poorly served by the sector,' he says. 'People as far as Leeds and Wales, as well as the middle chunk of the country, have in the past had to travel to Luton, Stansted or Liverpool.'

But having secured a strong hold on the central England market with bmi, there is now a danger that the strong brand identity of the parent could cause problems for the launch. 'The hardest thing is ensuring people differentiate between bmi proper and bmi baby. There are positive and negative sides,' Davis says.

'We're looking to position the company as offering a portfolio of services. It's the same company but expectations have to be different with each product. The worst thing marketers can do is build up expectations and then not fulfil them. That's why we have to ensure there is a separate brand identity for bmi baby.'

Promotional work has so far focused on media relations at both local and national level, even involving the airline's employees to promote the carrier in their own communities.

A PR-led campaign to promote the airline's Dublin route saw the website swamped and all tickets sold.

Four Communications joint founder Ray Eglington, who reported to Davis as a director at former bmi retained agency BSMG Worldwide, says: 'Of all the clients I've worked with in the past, he is one of the most creative.

That's what his real strength at bmi baby will be, as it's a very fast-moving business. But he'll always come up with ideas.'

Regardless of his indisputable general management skills, Davis's ability to think ahead of the opposition in grabbing the public's attention is likely to be crucial in the ultra-competitive airline sector.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in