Hawaiian Airlines was slowly drifting into obscurity on the national scene following its emergence from bankruptcy in 2003. Its share price was languishing, and the perception of the company among key players in the news media and the financial and investment community was that it was essentially a small inter-island carrier. Although Hawaiian Airlines was much more than that – it was laser-focused on getting its financial house in order and well on its way to transforming itself – its comeback went largely unnoticed by key business and media influencers. Clearly, the airline was in need of a new public persona starting with a carefully crafted story to articulate its many attributes. It also needed a much higher profile and an audience willing to listen to the story of the carrier’s transformation.
In the course of just six months, Burson-Marsteller succeeded in building the story of a new and revitalized Hawaiian Airlines and creating a dynamic media and investor relations program showcasing the carrier’s strategic vision, strong leadership and financial discipline. That effort culminated in the carrier being ranked as the Number One airline in the United States by U.S. News and World Report, the Number One airline for Best Holiday Travel by Forbes, and Mark Dunkerley being named the CEO of the year by Hawaiian Business Magazine. At the same time, the airline’s stock price hit a 52-week high as the financial community continues to gain confidence in management’s ability to drive growth under the stewardship of its CEO, Mark Dunkerley.
A carefully targeted media and investor campaign, which included an Investor Day event in New York, yielded many top-tier business media placements and played a significant role in changing perceptions of the company as a little known regional player to one that is now viewed as a successful, growing, international carrier. Burson-Marsteller was instrumental in creating the messages that cast Hawaiian Airlines as a new and reinvigorated company. Those messages provided the foundation for aggressive media outreach resulting in unprecedented national news coverage for the airline and its CEO within six months. Management credits the strong media attention with significantly increasing trading volume in Hawaiian Airlines stock, which has resulted in a 11.26% (+0.83) rise in share price since April 1, 2010.
Challenge & Opportunity
Having emerged from bankruptcy in 2003, Hawaiian Airlines faced the formidable challenge of rebuilding its reputation – among customers and the financial community – as a reliable and hospitable airline with a strong management team and a clear strategy for achieving growth and profitability. Even though the company emerged from bankruptcy significantly stronger, reduced operating costs and managed to pay back all stockholders in full, it lacked any appreciable media and investor visibility and recognition. Among the key business media, the company’s image remained largely unfamiliar relative to other airlines. When it was cited, the airline was typically identified as an inter-island and regional carrier despite the fact that it was expanding further into the U.S. and Asia. Investors also were unclear about Hawaiian Airlines’ capacity and growth plans, and they were uncertain about the outlook for the company’s future earnings.
In an effort to change the perceptions of the company’s investor and media targets, Burson-Marsteller, together with Hawaiian Airlines’ management, established the goal of raising the profile of company and its leadership team through a focused media and investor relations program. The program aimed to communicate the company’s strategic international expansion program, its increased financial discipline and its growing reputation within the airlines industry as a first-class operator. In addition to improving the carrier’s overall reputation, it was believed that raising Hawaiian Airlines’ profile could ultimately address the company’s capital-raising needs.
Research & Planning
In order to establish benchmarks for the campaign, Burson-Marsteller conducted an extensive media audit to gain a better understanding of airline industry trends and the business media landscape. Burson-Marsteller also conducted a perceptions audit with Hawaiian Airlines’ investors and sell-side analysts to determine prevailing views of the company’s strengths and weaknesses, including perceptions of management, corporate strategy, financial strength, growth prospects and overall reputation.
Based on the results of the audit, Burson-Marsteller developed messaging to best articulate Hawaiian Airlines’ most compelling investment proposition. The agency also created an investment story that emphasized management’s relentless focus on turning around the company’s finances and envisioning a growth strategy that succeeded in achieving expansion during very difficult economic times. Concurrently, Burson-Marsteller developed and executed a media campaign that gave the CEO and CFO an opportunity to tell the Hawaiian Airlines story to key business and airline industry correspondents in top media centers around the country with the aim of influencing the investment community.
Message Development – By utilizing the baseline research, Burson-Marsteller developed a targeted business media communications plan that emphasized Hawaiian Airlines’ service excellence, its dedicated workforce, an exceptional leadership team headed by a strong chief executive and very positive financials. The goal: to position the company as worthy of investment consideration.
Targeted Outreach – The program consisted of highly targeted outreach to top-tier business financial publications in conjunction with a sustained effort to reach the investor and analyst community. A key component of the media relations effort was raising the profile of the company’s CEO, Mark Dunkerley through a series of East Coast media tours in major financial centers. In addition to the media effort, Burson-Marsteller worked with the airline to create a half-day investors’ day program in New York City. The program gave the airline an opportunity to present to the company’s existing investors and analysts and reach a new audience of financial community supporters. The event was designed by Burson-Marsteller to highlight Hawaiian Airlines’ many strengths post-bankruptcy, including its strong management and its expanding operations into Asia.
Strategic Positioning – By articulating new corporate information and milestones, the message platform positioned the company as a leader among its peers, showcased management’s vision for the company and communicated the notion that Hawaiian Airlines was an industry trendsetter. Subsequent media outreach enabled Burson-Marsteller to go beyond industry trades and journalists to broader, top-tier media targets, which resulted in the opportunity to tell a more all-encompassing Hawaiian Airlines story. With the high level of visibility and recognition Hawaiian Airlines received, the company is far better positioned now to be invited to participate in important thought leadership platforms and to be considered for future industry awards and rankings.
Burson-Marsteller identified media targets that had the greatest potential interest in the Hawaiian Airlines story and orchestrated media tours for CEO Mark Dunkerley in New York City and Washington D.C. The goal was to expand our outreach beyond traditional industry-specific media and focus on increasing visibility for the airline among media outlets that reach a much broader audience, including financial journals, management magazines and general interest publications.
In conjunction with the media coverage that was secured for Hawaiian Airlines, Burson-Marsteller planned events for the company’s core audiences in the U.S. and in Asia, including the company’s launch at Haneda Airport in downtown Tokyo. Burson-Marsteller also developed recommendations for a Hawaiian Airlines microsite that investors and analysts could turn to for the latest company news and other financials.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
Since engaging with Burson-Marsteller, Hawaiian Airlines’ visibility has risen significantly in both the national news media and the investment community. Over the past 6 months, our efforts have resulted in executive and company profiles, feature coverage and bylined articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CFO Magazine, Forbes.com, MarketWatch, Bloomberg, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, USA Today, Agence France Presse and CNBC, which reached 27, 486, 334 individuals in aggregate.
Hawaiian Airlines Investor Day marked the company’s first investor-oriented event in recent history. The event provided the airline with an important forum to successfully reintroduce itself to the investment community, showcase its strong corporate leadership and garner new sell-side analyst attention and coverage. Burson-Marsteller worked closely with Hawaiian Airlines to create a program that reflected the company’s brand and the essence of Hawaii through a series of presentations that displayed the impressive breadth and depth of the Hawaiian Airlines management team, all of which were received positively by top buy- and sell-side analysts.
Following Investor Day, Hawaiian Airlines was ranked as the Number One Airline in the U.S. by U.S. News and World Report and Number One for Best Airline for Holiday Travel by Forbes. The company’s share price has since achieved a 52 week high at $8.69 a share. And, as a result of Investor Day, Hawaiian Airlines received increased coverage and positive ratings from analysts who attended the event. On December 13, 2010, the company recently announced successful renegotiation of lending agreements which have helped to strengthen the financial position for future growth.
Hawaiian Airlines has much stronger positioning among the news media and in the investment community as a result of a very successful repositioning campaign that was launched and executed very quickly and effectively. Its enhanced market positioning, strengthened relationships with journalists and analysts, and its solid financial performance and top industry rankings will serve as an excellent foundation for its future success as an industry leader.