In today’s (2/21/07) New York Times are two compellingly disparate uses of that expensive, attention-grabbing PR stratagem: the epistolary full-page ad in a national newspaper. In the “A” section, JetBlue CEO David Neeleman flagellates himself for the air carrier’s operational meltdown and grovels for forgiveness; in the Dining section, a restaurateur named Jeffrey Chodorow all but asks for the firing of the paper’s restaurant critic, Frank Bruni, on the grounds that A) Bruni gave Chodorow’s latest venture, Kobe Club, a bad review; and B) Bruni is “not really [a] food critic,” given that he previously worked as a political reporter and has no culinary background.
In the annals of full-page epistolary Times ads–I’m a collector–Chodorow’s is not as spectacularly ill-considered as the one that Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford took out in 1994 to affirm their heterosexuality. Nor is it as cluttered with nutjob typography (like a Dr. Bronner’s Soap label) as this guy’s, or as the ones that Steve Allen took out in the 1990s to lament the hell-in-a-handbasket trajectory of American pop culture. But Chodorow’s ad still has the effect of engendering precisely the opposite response that its writer/purchaser desires. Rather than making me feel for the guy (whose restaurants I’ve never visited, so I have no opinion of them), the ad makes me want to stay far, far away from Kobe Club and all other points in the Chodorow empire; its author comes off as a bitter, vengeful megalomaniac. Which, call me crazy, isn’t the best personality profile for someone in the hospitality business.
Neeleman’s letter-ad (a version of which appears here) is something else altogether, an extraordinary document. We’ve all seen corporate apologia after a product recall or an E. coli scare, but I can’t remember another instance of a CEO being so authentically wracked with remorse. The despairing tropes pile up, one after another: “We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry... Words cannot express how truly sorry we are... We know we failed to deliver... You deserved better–a lot better–from us last week and we let you down.” No misguided upbeat chirp-speak, no legalese qualifiers, no buck-passing to underlings. Neeleman is the anti-Cheney.
So I accept his apology. Yes, readers, I am a survivor of last week’s JetBlue Terminal Six Apocalypse. I shall take Neeleman at his word and fly JetBlue again. But not with any takeout from Kobe Club.