Last week, nobody knew Steven Slater.
Now, office watercoolers, Twitter feeds, Facebook and chat rooms are buzzing with expressions of support and the question: What’s next for the flight attendant who quit his JetBlue job in such memorable fashion that some have called him an instant American hero?
Heroic or not, the story of Slater’s confrontation with a misbehaving passenger has swept through Madison Avenue and Hollywood in addition to Main Street.
Slater’s story has the most immediate impact on TV news organizations, with broadcast networks and CNN among outlets trying to book him for interviews. A media scrum followed Slater’s brief jail stay. Good Morning America producers jumped into the same car as Slater, but he made them get out.
An ABC News spokeswoman said Wednesday that the producers had done nothing unusual and simply were chasing the story as their peers were.
“It’s a very competitive story, and everybody wants to hear from him directly about what happened,” said David Friedman, executive producer of CBS’ The Early Show.
Friedman’s bookers staked out the jail, Slater’s house and his lawyer’s office — but not necessarily with the aim of nailing an exclusive interview.
“All I care about is that we have him on our show,” he said.
Friedman said he figures an interview can be done anytime during the next 10 days.
Will Slater get a manager or agent to explore further opportunities such as book deals, TV shows or even a movie?
Major talent agencies are unlikely to sign anyone who doesn’t have a background in a craft such as acting or writing. Companies that book reality TV stars and celebrities might be a more logical fit.
Steve Peckham, svp at branding agency Olson, said it looks like a case of 15 minutes of fame.
“I suspect Mr. Slater’s fame is about to peak as he is sure to hit the late-night TV and radio talk show circuit, but it won’t last long,” Peckham said. “So a pure advertising play might prove challenging.”
Yet ad folks say they already have discussed the Slater situation with colleagues or clients.
Chris Raih, founder and managing director of Los Angeles-based creative agency Zambezi, said he and his team had mentioned him Wednesday morning.
“People around the country seem to have followed this classic go-to-hell moment with voyeuristic glee,” he said. “They want to root for him even more in a recessionary environment when many have gobbled up their anger.”
But he cautioned that ad campaigns referencing Slater and the incident would be hard to pull off given that it takes weeks to shoot a commercial and more lead time to get a campaign out. “I don’t think any brand will be fast enough to capitalize on this moment,” Raih said.
But Raih’s team is working on a 2011 campaign based on the idea that people should “go for it” each day. Other ad folks see some opportunity for a campaign once possible legal implications and other risks become clearer.
Beer companies were a popular suggestion for a natural ad home for Slater given that he had a cold one before his exit from the plane.
Michael Priem, CEO of USDM.net — an agency that works with U.S. and international airlines, Hilton and others — said he has brought up the Slater story in meetings and expects travel and tourism marketing firms to react to it, whether by referencing the case directly or drawing indirect lessons from it.
He can see any service company scoring from a campaign that uses Slater as a spokesman.
“He could show how painful it is to be in the wait line for a cell phone carrier or sit at a service center that frustrates us,” Priem said.
Joseph Jaffe, a consultant on marketing, had a Hollywood comparison for the flight attendant.
“Steve Slater is the modern-day equivalent of Charles Bronson in Death Wish — except, of course, there’s no artillery, bloodshed or permanent damage in this particular example of brand vigilantism,” he said. “I’d recommend JetBlue gets behind him. They have the kind of brand personality and authentic self-assuredness to use this as a perfect opportunity to demonstrate purpose and conviction. And if not, then I’d recommend one of their competitors snap him up.”
Angela Farrell, an accountant at marketing firm MSCO, reminded that American Idol seems to be in need of a new controversial host/hero, and Scott Cromer, partner and managing director of creative agency Mutt Industries said, “The whole thing feels like a John Hughes film.”
Said Jim Joseph, president of Lippe Taylor: “I think he will end up being a spokesperson of some sort. He’s quickly becoming the mascot for the disgruntled employee.”