CAMPAIGN DIRECT: PROFILE - CATHY SMITH. Marketer delivering BA’s promise to repair relationships with key fliers. Cathy Smith has refocused the airline’s marketing to help rebuild its damaged image, Robert Dwek writes

British Airways has hit some turbulence in recent months. There has been the defection of many business and first-class passengers, falling occupancy levels and criticism from Egon Ronay about the quality of its onboard catering.

British Airways has hit some turbulence in recent months. There has

been the defection of many business and first-class passengers, falling

occupancy levels and criticism from Egon Ronay about the quality of its

onboard catering.

In the eyes of many former BA loyalists, the airline has deteriorated on

almost all fronts, ranging from delayed take-offs, misplaced

reservations and increased lost luggage to aggressive ground staff and

inattentive cabin crew. One frequent flyer and BA Gold Card holder sums

up his growing disillusion thus: ’Flying with BA today is a hassle -

you’re not made to feel special and it’s out of its depth if anything

goes wrong.’

Many trace the malaise back to the cabin crew strike of 1997. While the

tough BA management might have won the picket-line battle and pursued

its outsourcing ambitions, it may have lost the war for the hearts of

its employees.

BA seems to be responding to this crisis. In what appears to be a U-turn

on recent strategy, the airline now admits it has been stretching its

marketing resources too thinly and will refocus on business and

first-class customers. An early manifestation of this approach is a

below-the-line campaign called ’promise’, which began in October and

ends this week.

Cathy Smith, business marketing manager, trade and corporates, for BA in

the UK and Ireland, is the woman in charge of ’promise’. Unfortunately,

a promised face-to-face interview with her was abruptly cancelled after

BA’s zealous PR people decided they didn’t like the look of Campaign’s

pre-faxed questions which, unsurprisingly, touched on the thorny issues

outlined above.

When the interview was resurrected, the unsatisfactory result was the

briefest of telephone chats, heavily stage-managed by the PRs to allow

no time to address the heavier stuff. Such defensiveness - some might

say paranoia - does not suggest a company at ease with itself.

Nevertheless, a few insights into BA’s strategy could be gleaned from

the media morsels on offer. The ’promise’ campaign was very

face-to-face, Smith says, particularly in communicating with travel


Smith describes it as ’the single largest and most integrated campaign

we have ever run’; previous campaigns have kept a divide between the

travel agent fraternity and the business clientele. The catalyst for

this type of campaign was a management reorganisation, which opened up

the lines of communication between BA’s many and varied marketing


’Promise’ brought together BA’s three main below-the-line agencies -

Tullo Marshall Warren, Claydon Heeley and Carlson - together for the

first time. ’The size of the campaign was likely to be too large for any

one agency,’ Smith says, ’and also required a lot more lateral thinking

because it had to appeal to very different audiences.’

Although she is keeping mum about the results of this campaign, Smith

says she has found the multiple agency approach ’a successful way of

working’ and is already planning a similar initiative for a campaign in

February and March.

A key part of the ’promise’ campaign was to begin building a powerful

trade database which could match the one already in place for corporate


Although she has only been in the job since April, Smith, 37, has spent

the past ten years with BA, working in various sales and marketing


Her two most memorable BA achievements to date are the ’promise’

campaign and this year’s ’summer fruits’ campaign. This was the ’first

proactive use’ of BA’s UK salesforce in developing a trade relational


It also had a ’fun’ element by featuring a range of Body Shop scratch

’n’ sniff products.

Smith’s views on the merits of below-the-line versus above-the-line are

hard to gauge. The question may have prompted PR suspicion that what

Campaign meant was: ’Do you agree that BA’s advertising is rubbish?’

But Smith was happy to state that ’targeted tactical activity clearly

has a depth not achievable above the line’ and she appears committed to

big numbers when it comes to direct mail. ’Promise’ featured packs sent

out to 11,000 travel agents and more than 200,000 Executive Club


Chris Freeland, group account director at TMW, which goes back a decade

with BA, says his agency has regular planning meetings with both Smith

and Sandi Lee, the leisure marketing manager. ’There is a strong

commitment from both teams to maintain an interdependent working

partnership,’ he says.

Now, if only BA could get its PR department to forge a more

’interdependent working partnership’ with the media.

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