Inside the launch of Avelo, America’s newest airline

The carrier brought on United Airlines alum Jim Olson and Crafted Communications to get the word out.

HOUSTON: Low-fare carrier Avelo Airlines has no in-house comms team, so it quickly had to bring in a consultant and several agencies to support its launch last week.

The airline, which began operating out of Hollywood Burbank Airport on April 28, is starting with three planes and 11 routes.  

Jim Olson, a full-time PR professor at Syracuse University who is continuing to operate his consultancy Hangar 6 Strategic Storytelling, was brought on as interim head of comms to launch the airline.

“A new airline comes along once every 15 to 20 years, so helping to launch a new airline is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Olson.

Avelo Airlines founder and CEO Andrew Levy brought Olson on to help him think through what an in-house comms team would look like. Olson and Levy previously worked together at United Airlines, where Levy was EVP and CFO and Olson was SVP of corporate communications at United Continental Holdings.

Olson said that he could not manage the launch on his own, so he hired Crafted Communications following an RFP process. Eight agencies pitched and Craft Communications started working with Avelo in March.

Crafted then brought in Lyman Agency and Agency M Media as partners to achieve scale. Those agencies were involved in the initial pitch under the Crafted umbrella, “with clear understanding that these are trusted partners,” said Crafted partner Molly Mulloy. 

She explained that Lyman has close relationships with Los Angeles media and Agency M handled all Latinx media outreach, including Spanish-language translations and media relationships. 

There have been three phases to the launch, starting with a brand unveiling on April 7. Last week was the second phase of the rollout, which was the airline’s inaugural flight from Burbank to Santa Rosa, California. The third phase will include an ongoing wave of hyperlocal PR as the flights roll out in different destinations, said Olson.

Avelo has three Boeing 737-800s and nonstop routes from Hollywood Burbank Airport in metropolitan Los Angeles to small airports in the Western U.S., including Bozeman, Montana; Eugene, Oregon; and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in suburban Phoenix. It plans to have eight planes by the end of the year. 

The agencies have been preparing and executing on everything from media relations to events for the launch. Budget information was not disclosed.

“We did a really robust overall campaign for the launch of the company and for the first flight, focusing on knowing there was a massive market opportunity and such an interest in the return of travel, creating robust assets,” said Mulloy.

She explained that it has been a challenge planning events for the launch due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had a lot of learning and pivoting,” she said. “In Los Angeles, we had a press conference scheduled at Hollywood Burbank Airport and we had to cancel that last minute out of caution from the airport and make it virtual.

In terms of earned media reach, more than 2,000 stories have been written about the airline.

While launching an airline during a pandemic has been “difficult,” said Olson, he noted that the travel industry is anticipating a “healthy resurgence” as the country gets vaccinated and everything opens up. 

Avelo Airlines’ message is about its simple purpose, which is to inspire travel. Olson said the airline is enabling that through ultra-low fares, which start at $19; convenience, based on the locations of the airports; and by giving consumers a new choice.

“One other key point of differentiation is something we call Soul of Service: our culture of caring,” said Olson. “[Last week marked] our first flight as an airline but we will never forget that all of our flights going forward will be a first flight for someone, and we will bring the same passion and care to every flight.”

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