Build your brand and culture from the inside out

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“Southwest Airlines holds plane for murder victim’s family.”

The headline from 2011 speaks of a tragedy no company would exploit in its PR.

But it says something when the family itself spreads the word that a Southwest pilot held a plane so a grandfather held up by security lines could visit a dying grandson on life support.

This simple act—a 12-minute delay—became an international news story, says Southwest’s Senior VP of Culture and Communication Ginger Hardage. And it says something about a culture that sees “putting people first” as more than just a slogan.

What kind of leadership does it take to become that kind of workplace? And what role do communicators play in developing that?

Listen up as Hardage and Kelly as they explain how culture is the bedrock that supports the company’s communications success. Find out how Southwest builds a workforce that’s enthusiastic about your organization.

In this top-rated event from Ragan’s conference, “Communicating your Company Story—Inside and Out,” held at Southwest Airlines’ headquarters, you’ll learn:

  • Why your chief executive should be your chief communicator.
  • Tips from a CEO for selling your leadership on social media.
  • How blogs can ease your organization into social media if your executives are skittish.
  • How to give your employees reasons to consume your content.
  • How to drill down your messages so that employees become brand ambassadors.
  • How community involvement wins hearts and minds.

Leadership is “effectively supporting your team of employees,” Kelly says. That’s what Southwest strives to do with its 43,000 staff, so that they all “could tell you what we stand for,” he says.

Learn how Southwest created, maintains, and reinvigorates one of the most admired company cultures in the world. Find out how to communicate your mission, support your team with the necessary resources, and then get out of their way so they can achieve great things.

Learn the secrets to the success that made Southwest the nation’s largest domestic airline, profitable for 38 consecutive years and boasting the lowest number of customer complaints.

Come away with ideas about how to treat customers like family and nurture the culture of your organization. One takeaway: Learn to celebrate and give employees “the freedom to have fun.”

“We take our work seriously, but not ourselves,” Hardage says.

Don’t be left behind. Change ahead of the times, and bring your employees along for the ride. After all, happy employees mean happy customers, happy stakeholders, and an army of brand ambassadors.

October 2011

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Presenter bio: 

Gary Kelly serves as the chairman of the board, president, and chief executive officer at Southwest Airlines. A 24-year Southwest veteran, he became CFO in 1989 and has worked closely with Southwest's cofounder and chairman emeritus Herb Kelleher and president emeritus Colleen Barrett to build the nation's largest airline in terms of passengers—and the undisputed low-fare leader.

Kelly began his career at Southwest Airlines as a controller, moving up to chief financial officer and vice president finance, then executive vice president and CFO, before being promoted to CEO and vice chairman in July 2004. He assumed the role of chairman in May 2008 and president in July 2008. Prior to joining Southwest in 1986, Kelly was a CPA for Arthur Young & Co. in Dallas and controller for Systems Center, Inc.

Ginger Hardage serves as the Southwest Airlines’ senior vice president of culture and communication, acquiring the culture aspects at Southwest Airlines from president emeritus Colleen Barrett. She also oversees all internal and external communications for the airline that carries the most customers in the United States and is a member of its Executive Planning Committee.

PRWeek has named Hardage one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Public Relations. In 2010 Southwest Airlines ranked in the top 20 of the “Best-in-Class” category in a national corporate public affairs survey. As a nationally recognized public relations professional, she was distinguished as one of Texas' most powerful and influential women in 2010.