What Happens When Your PR Person Is The One To Blame For Your Bad PR
This has actually been out in circulation for a while, but I first caught up to it over the weekend in reading the October issue of Business Traveler magazine and haven't seen anything else on this dustup. It's a doozy and definitely worth your attention.
One reason a magazine like Business Traveler exists is to give its presumably well-heeled readership a glance at what life is like at the front of the plane before they plunk down some serious coin for a seat, or convince their employers to do so.
In each issue the magazine reviews the service on several long-haul itineraries. Its reviewers get to deal with the jet lag so you don't have to.
The reviews offer an opportunity for airlines to get some seriously good press in a publication that reaches a critical mass of potential customers. Or not.
Pity MAXjet, one of the airlines offering an all-business-class service between JFK and London for less than what the major airlines charge.
Nice concept, bad execution, according to Adam Rodriguez's account. Among his grievances was being plagued by flight attendants who first ignored him or were downright surly, especially the head purser on the London-JFK run.
When I displayed the temerity to request a double Bloody Mary, she turned me down flat. I pointed out -- respectfully enough, I thought -- that I typically ordered the same cocktail in other airlines' business-class cabines ... "I don't give a shit," she explained. "I'm quitting next week."
Later, Rodriguez asked this genius for a new digital entertainment player, which all passengers get but which Rodriguez and other passengers found continually malfunctioned.
"Honey, if you don't like it, take a nap," Janet shouted at me as she ordered a colleague to confiscate my unfinished tray of food, while she whisked away my water bottle and my entertainment system. She added that if I objected, she would have security meet me at arrival and detain me for hours."
Rodriguez managed to avoid the shackles after getting an apology from the captain on that flight from hell for Janet's behavior and gave him a business card with the CEO's email address.
Soon after, he was contacted by Lori Tucker, MAXjet's spokeswoman and later received an email apology from the airline's CEO Gary Rogliano.
Judging by the portion printed in the magazine, Rogliano was sufficiently obsequious and contrite. But here's where it really gets good.
Rodriguez wanted to follow up with Rogliano after getting the email. But Rogliano made the fatal mistake of shunting Rodriguez over to Tucker, an experienced PR pro out of Dallas who apparently took leave of her senses and proved herself in need of a remedial course or three in media relations.
First, Tucker tried to dissuade Rodriguez from running his review by offering free MAXjet tickets to the magazine's staff. Rodriguez demurred. That put Tucker into desperation mode, as Rodriguez recounted.
She said that she had been directed to do "whatever it took" to keep this story out of the magazine, and noted that MAXjet had received other bad reviews that she felt were unfair.
I subsequently offered to give MAXjet an advance draft of our article so that it could respond in print. Ms. Tucker replied she was only interested in keeping my unfavorable review out of the magazine ... Ms. Tucker actually threatend to accuse our group of being drunk or on drugs during our flights, and warned ominously that someone would be "looking into our background" to "see who we were."
Kudos to Rodriguez for not caving in, especially because most of the magazine's advertising is from airlines.
A dunce cap to Tucker for attempted bribery. That she even attempted such a maneuver is likely evidence she's been able in the past to wine, dine and comp travel journalists, who collectively have never put ethics high on their to-do lists. That Rodriguez refused to take that bait must have sent her running for the Advil.
As for Rogliano, he doesn't seem too hot and bothered by this episode. A look at the latest MAXjet press releases show they've emanated from Tucker & Associates, although the media contact is not Tucker.
Which might be the best move MAXjet has made in a while.