Six weeks ago, seven people from EasyJet dressed in orange boiler
suits and boarded the inaugural flight of Go, British Airways’ new
budget airline. Fearful that the EasyJet team would be the corporate
equivalent of having Liam Gallagher, Gazza and Chris Evans on board, Go
staff nervously ushered them to the back of the aircraft. In the end,
the group, which included company founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou and
marketing director Tony Anderson, limited their sabotage to handing out
148 free EasyJet flights to grateful Go passengers.
A Bransonesque PR stunt? Undoubtedly. But that doesn’t mean it was an
empty gesture. In fact, it said a lot about how EasyJet thinks and
operates - a very different type of company sitting at a crucial
juncture in its three-year life.
Not only is EasyJet embroiled in a court action against BA - accusing it
of illegally subsidising Go - but it is also expanding rapidly, and has
spent pounds 500m on 12 new aircraft. The airline plans to triple in
size by the end of next year, taking it from a small airline with 450
staff and ten routes (an 11th, Belfast, is about to be launched), to a
much weightier player. It also has plans for flotation.
All this is happening at a time when the budget airline concept is still
relatively new in the UK and when the long-term impact of Go on
competitors EasyJet, Debonair and Ryanair is still anybody’s guess.
From the start, EasyJet has set out to reflect the no-nonsense
transparent values of its brand in its internal culture. One of the
principal challenges facing the company is going to be maintaining this
culture as it gets bigger, when the hierarchies and power bases of
larger companies tend to creep into even the most committed
Through the keyhole
To see how EasyJet lives up to its brand values, Marketing decided to go
and have a look for itself. To make the exercise more scientific, we
enlisted the help of Siamack Salari of ad agency BMP DDB - who is fast
gaining a reputation for being the David Attenborough of the marketing
world. In the same way as Attenborough studies gorillas from behind a
banana tree, Salari lurks in the corners of shops, supermarkets and
offices to observe Homo sapiens in his natural habitat.
BMP has formed a new division, called Culture Lab, from which Salari can
do this, and blue-chip clients ranging from B&Q and Esso to WH Smith are
using his findings to improve their customer-facing strategies, from
store design to staff training. His work is also proving popular outside
the marketing community, with Channel 4 using his
fly-on-the-supermarket-wall material in two series of the TV programme
Shop Til You Drop.
For this project we sent him and his camera to EasyJet’s Luton HQ -
called Easy Land - for a week. He man-marked marketing director Tony
Anderson, even driving into work with him and accompanying him on a
business trip to Amsterdam. The result? A unique study of a company
striving to keep its very different positioning and values consistent
while going through periods of great change.
Anderson, who worked for BA before helping to found EasyJet in 1995, has
set out to create a culture as diametrically opposed to BA’s as
The emphasis is on making the company live up to its no-nonsense values
by cutting out as much bureaucracy and internal hierarchies as
Luckily for Anderson, his boss Haji-Ioannou, like many other energetic
entrepreneurs, has a natural affinity with marketing and, from the
outset, he wanted EasyJet’s no-nonsense values reflected in the way it
The value of internal marketing is being widely recognised, and EasyJet
has fully embraced it.
This has created a system of working which is brutally transparent in
the way that information is shared between employees in all
Everybody knows what everyone else is doing, and, thanks to the nature
of the company, this means that marketing strategy is something in which
everyone has a say.
All documents have to be scanned and placed onto the computer system so
that they can be accessed by anybody in the company. This includes all
mail, internal memos, press cuttings, business plans and sales data -
the only confidential information is payroll. This open information
culture can be seen on the company’s web site, where visitors can read
all correspondence between EasyJet’s and BA’s lawyers about the Go
Salari noted how the open culture not only helped everyone feel they
have a hand in company strategy but also prevented individuals
accumulating power. ’They don’t want people to have power based on
knowledge,’ he says.
But there are problems with this way of working, not least of which is
information overload. Shared knowledge means people have to process far
more information than they would normally have to, which can waste
Another problem noticed by Salari is that staff feel they have to be
constantly informed about what other departments are doing in case they
are asked to chip in ideas.
For example, the chief pilot makes numerous marketing suggestions to
Anderson, such as making more reference to safety issues to counter any
consumer apprehension that the airline’s budget prices meant cutting
back on safety precautions.
This accessible culture also means that Anderson was happy to let us see
how some of EasyJet’s marketing works.
Being a 100% direct-sell operation, the marketing department is able to
gauge the effectiveness of every sales route it uses. Every day,
Anderson checks sales per route and per sales channel. Different phone
numbers are placed on tactical ads to test the relative effectiveness of
For example, in the week that we were there, Anderson told us that the
main 0990 29 29 29 number attracted 17,000 calls, compared with 15,000
from the number given out by directory enquiries. The response from
directory enquiries tells Anderson how effective his radio and poster
ads have been, as by the time people get home they have often forgotten
the number on the ad. He measured a further 3000 calls from the number
printed on timetables and 1000 from the number on the web site.
’This is the advantage of being direct sell,’ says Anderson. ’You can
tell the relative effects of different media and react very quickly if
you want to change things. You can move ads around sites in a paper and
measure the results daily to see which works best.’
However, not all of EasyJet’s marketing is so scientific. Some of it is
not far from being knocked up on the back of a fag packet.
Anderson explains an occasion - which he says is not that unusual - when
he, the PR manager James Rothnie and the managing director, Ray Webster,
thought of a press ad attacking Go in the back of a taxi. The ad used
the line Beauty and the Beast to suggest that behind Go and its
marketing director Barbara Cassani, lurked the sinister presence of Bob
Ayling and BA. The ad was designed that afternoon by the in-house design
team and sent to The Times, The Independent and Evening Standard, where
it appeared the next day.
Finding a voice
While this episode demonstrates EasyJet’s sense of bureaucracy-free
can-do, it also highlights some of the problems of a semi-chaotic
According to Salari, Anderson and Rothnie both took the credit for the
Beauty and the Beast idea before backtracking to say it was a group
’This flat hierarchy means that it’s very difficult for individuals to
have a voice,’ says Salari. ’The fact that everyone has a say means that
people often find it hard to be recognised for what they personally have
done. It’s the kind of company where you could get easily steam-rollered
if you don’t have a voice.’
EasyJet only employs one agency - Matters Media - which has bought its
media since it launched. All creative work, including the design of the
aircraft livery and ads, is done in-house. Anderson claims that when the
airline first started they approached a design company to create an
identity, but decided to do it themselves when they saw how much they
were going to have to pay.
Efforts like this clearly help to keep costs down, but, as with many
things at EasyJet, being seen to be saving money is as important as
actually doing it. It is part of the company’s culture to show consumers
that it works hard to stay cheap.
This is why cabin crew clean the aircraft interiors themselves at the
end of flights and why, on occasion, Anderson and other senior staff
also do a share of the cleaning. A big picture of said executives
cleaning - bin bags in hand - hangs on the wall for everyone to see.
Another element of being seen to keep costs down is a culture of being
stretched to the limit. Anderson, for example, has no secretary and a
direct line, so he finds himself continually fielding calls. These range
from stranded customers berating him from airport lounges to - on
average 50 times a month - people calling him directly to book
After one day away from the office Anderson came back to find 55
messages on his voice-mail, of which 30 were from people trying to sell
him something, fifteen from journalists and ten from charities.
’Because all the necessary information is open to me I have no excuse
not to deal with problems and enquiries over the phone,’ he says,
stoically adding that ’it’s very therapeutic and good for the soul.’
Anderson is quick to admit that many parts of the company’s culture and
practices have been learned and adopted from other companies, both
inside and out of the airline industry.
’We’re not afraid to learn from anyone, whether it’s Virgin, Direct Line
or First Direct,’ he says, adding that much of the airline’s open
communications strategy was learned directly from Richard Branson.
Haji-Ioannou and Anderson have met Branson and Sir Freddy Laker to
consult them on how best to tackle BA in their dealings over Go.
But the biggest single influence comes from another budget airline:
Southwest Airlines in the US. In the 21 years since it started,
Southwest has become one of the ten biggest airlines in the US. It has
been consistently profitable and is frequently voted the most popular
airline for customers and employees.
EasyJet sees in it a company that has grown big without losing the
values it had when it was small and that is what it wants to achieve
Anderson says: ’The key to success at Southwest is the culture of
participation and responsibility. It’s a great model for people
There is a semi-formal programme at EasyJet whereby employees spend time
at Southwest’s offices in Dallas, Texas, to see how the culture
Information about the company is dotted all around EasyJet’s offices,
including a mini-shrine in the boardroom in which Southwest’s mission
statements are framed on the wall.
Salari says he can see why people at EasyJet use Southwest as an
emotional crutch: ’They want to stick close to it because it makes them
feel they are doing things right. It gives them confidence.’
To ensure that it stays true to its founding principles as it grows,
EasyJet has formed a culture committee to oversee and shepherd its brand
values. The idea is to maintain its small-company energy as it expands,
a problem that many entrepreneurial start-ups have faced over the
EasyJet would do well to study closely how other unconventional brands,
such as Virgin and The Body Shop, have dealt with getting bigger,
although its own growth is unlikely to be as dramatic.
The difficulty is adjusting to life as a big player without squeezing
the life out of the company in the process. Many a rebel brand has been
tamed by growth, especially those that find themselves answerable to the