CAMPAIGN DIRECT: The man behind EasyJet’s success - The direct marketer of the year, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, has a singular, hands-on approach, Ali Qassim says

Single, 30, millionaire son of a Greek shipping magnate, with homes in Monte Carlo, Athens and London, Stelios Haji-Ioannou has all the credentials of an archetypal playboy. But you won’t catch him sipping champagne when he flies first or business class. That’s because EasyJet, the controversial airline he founded two years ago, runs single-class jets with no free drinks or food.

Single, 30, millionaire son of a Greek shipping magnate, with homes

in Monte Carlo, Athens and London, Stelios Haji-Ioannou has all the

credentials of an archetypal playboy. But you won’t catch him sipping

champagne when he flies first or business class. That’s because EasyJet,

the controversial airline he founded two years ago, runs single-class

jets with no free drinks or food.



’Stelios’ - as he is known by staff and clients - thrives on

contradiction and surprise. The same man whose privileged background

allowed him to raise pounds 30 million to start an airline refuses to

have a secretary. His corner at EasyJet’s open-plan office at Luton

Airport is so undistinguished that a Japanese airline executive on a

trip to the UK asked to take a snapshot of his desk.



His management style - he insists that every memo or decision can be

accessed by all members of staff through computer terminals, only

salaries are secret - is as informal as the weekly Friday afternoon

barbecues for all staff.



There is no false modesty when he hears that Campaign wants to discuss

why he won the direct marketer of the year award at the recent UK Direct

awards in Jersey. Mild impatience, yes: he’s leaving for France in half

an hour and would rather be monitoring the telephone response to a new

travel offer through the Daily Mirror, which has so far elicited 18,000

calls a day. And he is also engrossed in the ongoing court proceedings

in Amsterdam which has pitted his airline in the David role against

KLM’s Goliath.



It takes much pressing for Stelios to account for his recent award: ’I

suppose I have proved direct marketing can work in an industry in which

everyone said it couldn’t,’ he concedes.



He is referring mainly to the British Airways axiom: you can’t sell

seats without tour operators. But as John Watson, chairman of the judges

of UK Direct, says: ’He has taken all the conventions in the travel

trade and turned them on their heads.’



In fact, EasyJet is built entirely on a direct proposition: a

combination of low prices, low ground costs (flying from Luton, not

Heathrow) no tickets, no travel agents, no network tie-ups, no on-board

food (’If you want a meal, go to a restaurant,’ says one ad) and no

fancy staff togs (crew wear orange sweatshirts and jeans).



’The message is that customers can fly cheaper and we try to explain

why. We can monitor the message directly,’ he adds, pointing to the

150-plus telephone operators behind him who work on commission-only and

operate 24 hours a day.



’What appealed to the judges is the phone number on the side of the

plane,’ says Watson, referring to the 0990 29 29 29 number that is

emblazoned along the fuselage of the bright orange planes.



All the press ads - the pounds 4 million campaign uses lines written by

Stelios and his staff while local agencies handle media placement -

carry a number depending on where it appears. ’We can measure which

media gives us better value in sales terms,’ he says.



The marketing strategy strives to establish a direct connection with the

audience. Sometimes these are planned, as in the link-up with Tottenham

Hotspur fans through the sponsorship of an EasyJet stand at White Hart

Lane and a special hotline number.



Other times, campaigns are opportunistic and cheeky responses to events

in the industry. During the recent strike action at British Airways,

EasyJet ran ads with the line: ’Our catering staff would never vote for

a strike. We don’t have any.’



Of greater importance are the ads running in the Dutch press to promote

fares on the Luton-to-Amsterdam flights in what is a direct challenge to

KLM and Air UK. EasyJet has succeeded in persuading the European

Commission that the KLM chairman should be investigated for deliberately

starting a predatory pricing war to drive EasyJet out of the Amsterdam

route.



The proceedings, which Stelios is convinced will end in victory for

EasyJet following leaked information of incriminating memos written by

top KLM managers, could lead to a major PR coup.



Stelios’s ambitions to run an EasyJet operation out of Rotterdam reveal

a self-confidence that was nurtured by his background at the London

School of Economics and at City University.



He has already confounded the critics by running successful routes to

Scotland, Nice and Barcelona.



He claims EasyJet’s low prices led Air France to stop running its London

to Nice service, a claim furiously denied by an Air France

spokesman.



The next step is a pounds 500 million investment on a further 12 planes

which will allow EasyJet to carry up to six million passengers in the

next two years to new destinations including Athens and Geneva. ’We’ve

proved that lower prices can push up demand,’ says Stelios, who is quick

to point out that carriers such as ValuJet and Southwest Airlines set

the precedent for no-frills airlines in the US.



But it’s not just a case of imitation, a point that British Airways,

which is considering the launch of its own budget airline, may want to

note. The message has to be as effective as the costs are low. ’Direct

marketing is about results,’ Watson says. ’Someone who’s been so

successful so quickly must be doing something right.’



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