Case Study: Southwest Airlines Uses PR Newswire to Reach Critical Media and Consumer Audiences


Over thirty years ago, Southwest Airlines began as a small airline determined to keep things simple; provide its customers with the lowest fares, get them to their destinations on time and, most importantly, make sure they’re happy throughout it all.  These practices have held strong over the years as the airline continues to grow and prosper.  Southwest Airlines has maintained their small company roots and wholesome Texan customer service even though they’ve climbed the ranks in the American airline industry.  Today, the company flies more than 65 million passengers a year to 60 cities across the country. 
Southwest Airlines prides itself on delivering the highest quality of customer service, conveyed with a sense of warmth, friendliness and spirit.  They maintain their status as one of the top low-fare, high frequency, point-to-point American airline providers by constantly improving their customer service with perks such as senior discounts, ticketless travel, DING! fare specials and same-day airfreight delivery service. 

Southwest Airlines has not been immune to the challenges facing the airline industry: stiffened competition, the increasing cost of fuel and the collapse of the entire industry after the attacks of September 11th. Despite these apparent obstacles, the airline pledges to uphold their mission to provide its customers with affordable air travel, without gimmicks or confusing charges.  The communication challenge for Southwest Airlines was to find a way to continually communicate their messages to key media and the general public throughout both good and bad times. As a long time customer of PR Newswire, Southwest Airlines enlisted their help in communicating corporate messages and responding to crises when necessary.

Southwest Airlines has been a customer of PR Newswire since the early 1990s.  Since then, the airline has regularly utilized PR Newswire’s secure news release distribution services and through its partnership with Thomson Financial, PR Newswire also provides Southwest Airlines with tools to power their investor relations Web site.

One of the major priorities of Southwest Airlines’ communications staff is to respond to crises in a timely and efficient matter while keeping the media, customers and investors informed with up-to-date details.  If Southwest uncovers something negative in the media, or if they need to respond to a breaking crisis, Linda Rutherford, Director of Public Relations, often issues a news release over PR Newswire.  According to Rutherford, PR Newswire is a “reliable and dependable service” that, in her own words, “provides outstanding customer service.”  This is why she also uses PR Newswire to distribute promotional news, including fare specials, packages, Rapid Rewards program updates and information on new routes.  Additionally, Southwest Airlines issues all of their material news over PR Newswire.

The results Southwest Airlines sees from PR Newswire are ongoing.  Throughout good and bad times, PR Newswire is consistently a helping hand; in times of crises, Southwest is able to communicate quickly and effectively with key audiences and when promoting and publicizing the airline’s value added offers, PR Newswire helps them tell their story to the world.

Rutherford said, “It is because of their responsiveness to our needs and PR Newswire’s general customer service philosophy that we’re a happy customer. It is a great, customer-friendly service that is a powerful tool in our tool belt when it comes to customizing our services to our media audiences.  PR Newswire gives us a way to reach the World Wide Web and a network of journalists who ‘mine’ the newswires for story ideas. We’ve been pleased with their accuracy, attention to detail, speed and responsiveness- particularly when we needed them in crisis situations.”

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Marketers and communications professionals face many of the same challenges in their work, including communicating to fragmented audiences, breaking through the clutter in an ‘always on’ society and quantifying the impact of communications programs.  The good news is that innovation and 21st Century technologies offer new ways to address these challenges. The problem that exists, however, is that many are reluctant to change the way they work, to acknowledge what actually is going on around them technologically and to embrace that which will exist in the future.

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