Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines Just Delivered A Masterclass in Public Relations

Chris Gensheer   -  

I just received an email from Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines. I know, it’s really the Public Relations department, but it’s under his leadership. What they delivered though was more than an email – it was a masterclass in public relations.

You can (hopefully) read the email.

On the heels of the Boeing 737 max aircraft crash this last Sunday, the airplanes have been grounded internationally, and now also in the US. The news has been circulating over every media outlet, and I’ve followed the story. But to be frank, I never really considered whether or not I would be personally affected by this tragedy or situation.

I have a trip coming up where I will be flying Southwest Air to Nashville to attend the StoryBrand Certification workshop. And yet it never occurred to me to check to see if my flight is one of the Max planes being grounded (let alone, if it’s a relatively safe plane).

But I bet I’m not typical. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who have been researching and talking about this for themselves or their loved ones since Sunday (at least).

What Kelly and the team at Southwest Airlines did in response, speak to both of us – the ones deeply concerned about their upcoming flights and the ones like me who didn’t have it on our radar.

They empathized with us and everyone affected by the downed plane situation, as well as those reeling from the tragedy of this past weekend. They explained the circumstances and the situation itself, the outlined the history and relevant facts regarding the plane and Southwest’s track record with it. And they calmed the nerves of those keenly aware as well as those of us who hadn’t considered it before.

What’s more, they did this without asking! Without measuring what their ROI would be.

I’m sure that by speaking directly to a situation like the plane crash on Sunday, and by listing out the potential ramifications to all air travel during a busy season, some people might re-think their travel plans. But, they did this anyway. Why?

They did it because they get what is fundamental to all business and all marketing: it’s about people.

In sending this letter, they identified with me as a person, not merely a consumer; as someone with cares and concerns beyond their bottom line; as a human being with my own set of challenges and aspirations.

In other words, they taught me and all of us that public relations, marketing, and business, in general, are supposed to be about caring about the people they seek to serve.

All businesses should take a cue from Gary Kelly and Southwest and make their marketing and business strategy, human again.