An Open Letter to United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz
Dear Mr. Munoz.
You and United Airlines have had a hard couple of weeks.
For the benefit of the uninformed, let’s recap just a little, shall we?
First one of your United Airlines’ employees chose to have a passenger taken off a flight in order to seat some United Airlines’ employees. By the time Chicago security dragged the hapless passenger – Dr. Dao – off the plane a second time, he was both screaming bloody murder and bleeding from his mouth. Days later, Dr. Dao is due for both reconstructive surgery and his day in court to punish you and United.
Of course, Dr. Dao’s unfortunate trip down the aisle was documented on your other passengers’ cell phone videos and smeared all over the Internet. You can’t swing a mouse through the Internet without coming across a replay of this awful event.
Despite all this, it took you at least four attempts at a public statement before you both apologized sincerely and took responsibility for what happened.
In the meantime, a scorpion attacked another United passenger, a newlywed couple was put off their flight, and the blogosphere erupted in humorous memes and incensed outrage, all targeting you and United. And if that weren’t enough, pundit after pundit reminded the public of the “United Breaks Guitars” event (the video has been viewed a staggering 17,258,000 times) and the aptly-named “legging incident.”
There’s been so much press on United Airline’ troubles that I’ve already been on national TV five times to talk about the events. Here’s CNN, FOX, and MSNBC just to list a few.
The bottom line? It’s estimated that your United Airlines has already lost between $800 million and one billion dollars in brand value.
That’s not to say you haven’t done a lot of good for the company. You are given credit for leading United airlines through the tumultuous merger with Continental Airlines and fixing the union crises. Better, under your leadership United Airlines logged a record $1.1 billion in profit last year, and you commandeered a brilliant $3 billion stock buyback program.
But let’s face it, you’ve really stuck your foot in it this time. To get out of this nightmare is going to take a little bit of planning and a whole lot of work.
Here’s what you and United Airlines needs to do:
At the old saying goes, when you’re in a hole and you want to get out, the first thing to do is stop digging. What happened on your planes was bad enough – there’s no need for you to make it worse through tone deaf statements. You’re a smart man, Mr. Munoz. Do I need to say more?
Watch my favorite television commercial of all time. It was aired back in 1990. No, I didn’t write it or produce it. I just think it’s one of the best pieces of marketing communications ever.
Notice something interesting, Mr. Munoz? That’s right. The spot is for United Airlines. The company you run.
This commercial is proof positive that almost 30 years ago your company knew exactly what it stood for and why. And it shows that United Airlines understood why your customers do business with you. In my world, this commercial proves that once upon a time United Airlines had a powerful All About Them brand.
What this great commercial shows us is it’s not that United Airlines has been hit with bad luck. It’s not that times have changed. It’s not that conditions have conspired against you.
It’s simply that you and United Airlines have lost your way.
I’m not suggesting that your flight back won’t be a difficult one. But just like your suggestion of “having to re-accommodate… customers,” maybe it’s time to re-accommodate your brand messaging and the operational training procedures that go along with that re-accommodation.
And unlike the blowhards who are screaming for your head, I think you’re the perfect person to lead your company into the promised land. After all, you’ve already proven your financial acumen and your uncanny ability to negotiate with unions and employees. And you’ve felt both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Victory feels a whole lot better, doesn’t it?
Now it’s time to demonstrate that your leadership coups were not simply beginner’s luck.
If it’s not clear yet, I would love to help you build a compelling brand strategy every bit as powerful as the one your airline debuted in 1990. I believe United Airlines is perfectly positioned to prove the power of All About Them. What’s more, I believe you’re just the guy to do it.