#28 – Frontier Airlines picks a fight, bad press hinders recruiting, & the surprising reason brands are buying Facebook ads

#28 – Frontier Airlines picks a fight, bad press hinders recruiting, & the surprising reason brands are buying Facebook ads


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There are many bold frontiers in reputation management, insulting members of the media is not one of them!

Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal:                  We are back with another episode and once again, we’re talking about airlines, but instead of attacking passengers, Frontier Airlines has decided to attack local journalist and Erin has been keeping an eye on that story.

Erin Jones:                  Yes, a local news castor here in Denver named Kyle Clark made a joke on the air about … Frontier had a press presentation where they had two airline employees holding up a sign, and he just said, “Frontier saving money by using low level employees to hold up a banner instead of getting a sign holder.” Frontier didn’t think the joke was as funny as Kyle did, and they really took it and ran with it. Jim Faulkner is their head of corporate communications and he sent Kyle a scathing letter. You can find it on 9 News’ Home page but he told Kyle he was a jerk with short-mans disease, went so far as to insult his work photograph, asked if his golden retriever had died before the photo was takes. Kind of commented that he was a petulant child with low self-esteem, just kept going and going, calling him horrible names, just wrote this horribly unprofessional letter.

The morning after this all went live, because of course Kyle took it to the air immediately being the petulant child that he apparently is, and said, “I wasn’t attacking Frontier’s hard workers, I was attacking their executives and showing how little they’re valuing their underpaid employees,” and Jim no longer works for Frontier. He says that he had turned in his notice before the letter was written, but I’m guess that he’s probably having a pretty hard time finding employment now.

Andy Beal:                  Yea if your head of corporate communications, you need to understand you can’t stoop to the level of the person that’s attacking, and I watched the piece, and it was a tacky piece by the journalist. It was, you know … had nor real merit, other than to pick on Frontier Airlines, but that doesn’t give Frontier Airlines the excuse to have low blows as well. Take the high ground. You are a ultra low-budget airline, but that doesn’t mean you have to go ultra low with your corporate responses. I think that defending the staff was a great motivation, but I think the way that he went about it was clearly the wrong way to go about it. And whether or not he’d already handed in his resignation or he was fired, it’s probably a good thing for Frontier that he’s no longer their voice responding to journalist.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. You know, they’ve been in hot water multiple times, especially in the Denver area where we are one of their hubs. They did go so far as actually to tell Kyle that they were pulling his travel records to examine how good of a customer he had been.

Andy Beal:                  Wow.

Erin Jones:                  Which another … You know, I feel like that’s also really inappropriate. That’s kind of like if you tic off your doctor, he pulls your medical records to try to pick you apart. Unfortunately for them, what they found is that he flies with them frequently and actually had a flight book within the next week or two to fly with them, which he has since moved on to another airline. But in this area his kinda know as a journalist that … He’s known for being kind of campy more editorial journalism than hard hitting journalism, so they knew what they were dealing with, and I think that they probably knew when they wrote this letter that it was going to be put on the air. So I’m just really not sure what they were hoping to achieve with any of his.

Andy Beal:                  Maybe it’s … They want to be an ultra low-cost airline, and maybe they’re modeling themselves after the European airlines, Ryanair, Easy Jet, that kind of stuff, and id you look at the European airline, if you look at some of the hot water they’ve gotten into, all the way up to the CEO, you’ll often find arrogance and this type of response. It’s like we’re edgy, we’re a low-cost airline, so we have a low cost reputation, and we’re just going to run with it. So if that had been a deliberate choice as part of their shift, it would have fit with that, but clearly it’s not because someone further up with more sense issued their own saying you know, he doesn’t represent Frontier, and these are not our opinions, so it seems to me more like he took it personally. So maybe he was the one that orchestrated that reveal and brought the media out and took it personally and responded personally as opposed to responding with the voice of the Brand. And that’s the thing. Whether you’re the CEO, whether you’re the owner of a small business, or if you’re the PR person, communications person, you are always responding for the brand. You are that public spokesperson.

So whatever brand you’re trying to build, that response should be in line. If you are an edgy company that drops F bombs and runs controversial adds, then by all means, have at it attacking a journalist. It fits in with the persona, the brand persona you’re building for your company, but if you’re not, and Frontier doesn’t look like it wants to be that, then you can’t take this personally. You’ve got to swallow your pride, and I think there was a way for him to responds, to stick up for the staff, and make the journalist look petty and look like he was just firing insults without returning fire themselves. So it think the way he handled it likely cost him his job.

But, here’s the question, why is Frontier picking a fight with the media because they’ve got so many issues going on. They were recently finding $400,000 for improperly bumping passengers. So it’s not like they had this stellar reputation where if you attacked them they have a strong platform to retaliate.

Erin Jones:                  I completely agree and if you’re going to be that bold, edgy brand that you mentioned that does come back at people, first of all the media is all you’ve got left. So maybe try to keep them on your side even if you are attacking passengers. Second of all, learn how to throw a good jab. I feel like my seven year old could have written a more insulting letter than this and had it be more entertaining. Saying, “You’re a short man, and you’re a jerk and a hypocrite,” I just feel like a petulant child wrote that.

Andy Beal:                  Write, yeah. That wasn’t exactly creative, and he could have been a lot better, but hey, maybe it was his first time attacking a journalist, you know?

Erin Jones:                  I guess.

Andy Beal:                  It’s kind of like, you know, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation and the police all storm in and the wife says, “We’re sorry, this is our first kidnapping.” Because, that’s his first attempt at replying to a journalist that’s ticked him off, maybe he’ll do batter next time or maybe he’ll get a career change, but the thing for Frontier Airlines is now that they’ve got this negative press. So they’ve got this attack from the journalist that they’ve got into this spat with, they’ve got these fines, and CareerBuilder released a survey this week showing that 71% of US workers would not apply to work at a company with negative press. So when you get yourselves embroiled in these scandals, you not only, how you … Is it costing you in terms of, “We got to fight this. We got to invest time in this. We’ve got to run ads. We got to repair our reputation,” but now you are reducing the pool of people that you can recruit from.

There’s not going to be as many flight attendants or people that want to work at Frontier Airlines, and it’s kind of interesting that 71% would not even apply to work at a company that’s had negative press.

Erin Jones:                  That and they’re going to have to really up the ante if they want a decent pool, because the same survey showed that most people would require a 50% to 60% pay increase to take on a position at a company with a bad reputation. So people have a line and it’s an expensive line, you know?

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, what’s interesting is … This really jumped out at me … Only 6% of existing employees say they have left a company because of bad publicity. So they wouldn’t apply. They wouldn’t voluntarily get themselves into it, but it’s interesting that a very, very small single digit percentage said, “If I find myself working at a company that had that bad reputation, was getting bad publicity,” only 6% said that they would actually leave the company.

Erin Jones:                  Now and my concern with that statistic was this. If the people that they surveyed work for companies that don’t have bad reputations, did they take that question as, “Oh if there was a bump in the road, no I wouldn’t leave,” or did they as, “If this company goes full on Uber on us and has repeated bad press after bad press after bad press would I leave?”

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, well I think the key is they asked, ‘had they left’, but I think your point is still valid because, how bad was it? They didn’t quantify, you know … “Have you ever worked for a company that’s been in the Wall Street Journal for bad news and you’ve left?” It was like … Yeah. But I have. I’ve left two companies. So I really would skew those stats. There’s two companies that I’ve worked with many years ago back before I realized that the only place for me was self-employed, because if the CEO was a jerk I only had myself to blame. So I’ve actually left two companies. One I left because I discovered that there were some really fishy things going on with the revenue reporting and I didn’t want to have any part of it because I was prominent in that company and I didn’t want to go down with that. This was news to me, I wasn’t part of it, I’m like, “I’m out of here.” And then the second one, our investors were supposedly handling our books but weren’t paying our taxes, and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m one of the executives here. No one’s going to believe that I didn’t know that.” Even though I didn’t, nobody’s really going to believe, “Wait, you were the CEO and you didn’t know this?” So I got out of that too.

And it’s important to understand that your reputation as an individual is tied to the company you work for no matter which level you work at. I’m sure people that have Chipotle on their resume or Wells Fargo on their resume, they’re probably going to have to, at best, at least explain their role in the company and their thoughts on the challenges the company went through just to kind of demonstrate that, “Hey, I wasn’t a part of this. This shouldn’t be a reflection on me.”

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely, and I’m with you on this, and maybe it’s part of what drew us to the profession that we’re in, but if I’m embarrassed to tell someone where I work, I’m not going work there. I don’t want to have shame in something that I’m spending a third of my life doing. So that’s what made me question that statistic. I just really wonder I there’s a big difference between “Local executive gets speeding ticket,” and that hits the news because they’re really prominent in the community versus people are robbing shareholders. So I feel like I would like to see a little bit more explanation of that statistic, because that one surprised me a lot. And the other thing that surprised me was they said that about 82% of millennials are willing to work somewhere with a damaged reputation and, you know, is that because they need the money and the experience more? You know, as we get further on do our morals grow with our experience?

Andy Beal:                  That’s a good question. I saw that and I was like, “Yeah, is it because the job market was tough and beggars can’t be choosers? Is it because they’re at the early start of their career so they haven’t really figured out what they want to do, so it’s not a big deal for them?” It was interesting statistic, and you know, it seems like everybody’s beating up on the millennials, but maybe another part of this, right … So I’ve talked about this for years now, is that as we see more and more scandals happen, so as we see the college students’ wild parties, saying things that we would never dream of saying … As we become more and more exposed to that, it becomes more and more of the accepted norm, and therefore we kind of, it needs a bigger scandal in order for it to be something for us to really gasp and say, “Oh my gosh, that’s terrible.”

See, all these things that happen right now, for the last few years, these are all new, right? So whether it’s the video of someone going on a rant and they didn’t realize they we’re being recorded, or whether it’s somebody … A transcript being released, whatever it may be, this is all still new to us, but as we get more and more exposed to it, it’s like, “Eh, what’s the big deal,” and for millennials, they went through college where there was probably smartphones, and video cameras, and people recording them, and they’ve seen it all, so maybe they’re a little bit desensitized to it and maybe that’s where we’ll get to.

I mean think about it, with the airline, now it’s like, “Eh, you got bumped,” right? Or, “You lost your seat,” and whatever it may be. That happens every day. Get used to it. But when you get dragged off of a plane kicking and screaming, now that gets our attention.

Erin Jones:                  Right, if you just get slapped around a little bit, it’s really not going to make the news anymore.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, it’s like, “What they didn’t even draw blood? Oh they didn’t draw blood. Who cares? We’re moving on to the next story.” So that’s crazy, yeah.

Erin Jones:                  And I also, just thinking, whenever I think about things like this, I kind of try to think of five of my friends as a population survey, and I do have people in my life, that their job is their job and they want the most money they can make during their earning time, and if that’s with a company that’s less than stellar, they may be willing to do that if they’re going to make 50% more money, and then I do have friends who say, “Absolutely not, my integrity is worth more than a paycheck to me.” So I think it takes all kinds, and I think that people who are quicker to brush it off and because desensitized to it are going to be more willing to go work somewhere like that, and maybe there’s someone idealistic out there that goes to work at a place like that thinking they can change it, you know? So I just think there’s a lot of variables here.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, there is, and that’s a good point. Alright, last story. Buzzfeed is reporting an uptick in companies that are sponsoring paying for Facebook ads to drive users not to their website, but to positive third party stories about their companies. So we’ve talked before about this concept of social proof, and that is somebody writes a good piece about you, or there’s a positive tweet, or a yelp review that’s really positive, and how valuable it is to share that, but we’re seeing this amped up now and companies are saying, “Hey, Mashable wrote this great article about us. Let’s sponsor traffic to that article and see if we can get new customers be saying, ‘Hey, don’t just take our word for it, here’s what this journalist or this news site has to say.’.” What are your thoughts Erin?

Erin Jones:                  I think it’s a good idea, actually. I know you’ve talked about this a lot. With traditional media, you can print an add and have no idea who saw it, if it was targeted, where it was going. With social media, we can put something out there and see who’s looking at it, how long they looked at it for, we can pick the demographic that it goes to, and it’s just like printing a testimonial in a magazine ad. I feel like it’s kind of the new wave of that and I kind of feel like it levels the playing field for small businesses that don’t have this immense ad budget to go to an advertising agency and spend $75,000 on a single campaign. It’s kind of the guerrilla marketing way of getting around doing that.

Andy Beal:                  I think it’s a good idea, I agree with you. Now the key thing is you’ve really go to invest in your product because you need these unbiased third party news sites to write something glowing about you. Because even if there’s just a single critique, you may think twice about sponsoring it, but if overall it’s a really good, glowing piece and you’ve got a great product or a great service this is a great idea. And you’re right, small businesses, this is going to help them, and they don’t even necessarily have to spend the money to spread it to a new audience. Even if they just went into Facebook and said, “Okay, we just want to sponsor this to those that like our page,” which is the cheapest budget you could spend, those that already like your page, just to make sure that they don’t miss it, because if they’ve liked your page they probably like your company and you want them to see that story because they may share it with their friends, and now you’re getting that exposure in front of their friends who probably have similar interest.

Now you could go the route and say to Facebook, “Show it to people that like or page and their friends,” but the problem with doing that is they don’t know why they’re being targeted and they could be upset, and sometimes you get backlash from that. But as a small business, if you just said, “Show this to people that like our page.” Well if that person then shares it to their network, that is much more valuable that it showing up in their feed as a sponsored post.

Erin Jones:                  Exactly, and it also … I think it promotes brands to be better. If you’re getting these glowing reviews, you’re going to get hungry for more, and so you’re focusing more attention on being a better brand than you are coming up with an amazing advertising campaign.

Andy Beal:                  Now the one concern that I do have, and this is for those … Maybe for Facebook and the news sites to keep and eye on, because I don’t think necessarily the brands themselves are going to be worried about self-policing this, but we do need to make sure that there’s not going to be any collusion or conflicts of interest. I could see somebody go into a news site and saying, “Hey, we want to share this product with you. We want you to write about it, and if it’s a positive enough story we’re going to spend a couple hundred bucks driving traffic to the news article that you write.” I could see that happening. If it’s not already happening, I could see it happening, and now you’ve got this underground system where the journalist or the news site’s thinking, “Hey, if we write something positive and we just don’t mention the negative stuff these people are going to spend money to promote that and I’m getting free sponsored traffic.”

Erin Jones:                  And on the flip side, trying to get someone to write something negative about your competition because we know negativity sells.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah.

Erin Jones:                  You know, who’s sponsoring these posts? I think that there should be some spotlight on that as well.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, whenever there’s a good idea, someone’s going to flip it and find the exploit, and do something bad with it.

Erin Jones:                  Right, and that does scare me, but if you don’t have a lot of negative being said about you, then you probably don’t have to worry as much.

Andy Beal:                  Right. And it all goes back to the character of who you are and your company. In fact, I was on another podcast with a friend of mine earlier this week and we talked about the important of character. So you got to have a good character, whether that’s you individually, or your company, or your products so that when you go to these journalist you’re going to get positives reviews, and then if you want to used that for social proof, spend the money. But you know what? You can do it without spending a penny. Pen it to your Facebook page. Pen it to you twitter account. Post a link to it from your homepage. Put a link to it from your footer in your email. There’s a lot of why to share with this “social group” without you having to spend a lot of money.

On that note we will wrap up. Thank you all for tuning in. We’ll be back again next week with another show. If you have any questions or comments, if there’s anything you’d like us to discuss, please head on over to our Facebook page. It’s \AndyBealORM. Leave a comment there or go to the blog post and leave a comment under that, we’d be happy to answer your questions that you have, and as always, than you Erin for joining me.

Erin Jones:                  Thank you, I’m so happy to be here.

Andy Beal:                  And thank you guys for listening. We’ll catch you again next week. Bye bye.

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