Travel and Transportation Takeaways From Adweek Presents: The Way Forward

Hyundai CMO and JetBlue chairman on leadership during turbulent times

This week marks Adweek's sixth edition of Adweek Presents: The Way Forward.

On Adweek Presents: The Way Forward this week, Adweek’s Lisa Granatstein, editor and svp of programming, spoke with Hyundai chief marketing officer Angela Zepeda and longtime JetBlue chairman Joel Peterson to get an inside look at the state of the travel and transportation industry.

Airlines have been hit particularly hard as a result of Covid-19, requiring leaders to make difficult decisions to keep their businesses afloat. Peterson, who recently authored the book Entrepreneurial Leadership: The Art of Launching New Ventures, Inspiring Others, and Running Stuff, stressed the importance of decisive action and optimism.

Comparing the current slew of crises to conditions during wartime, Peterson urged leaders to “communicate powerfully” and without ambivalence.

“Business leaders tend to put things off, dread letting people go, putting them on furlough,” Peterson said. But especially in times of crisis, as soon as the right decision has been made, it’s important to take action, he said.

“Hope is not a strategy, so you have to really be clear-eyed and step in and make decisions,” Peterson said. “If you make a wrong call, step in and fix it.”

Zepeda’s take on leading Hyundai’s marketing efforts throughout the pandemic was slightly different, largely because her transition from agency life to a corporate leadership role has been a significant change of pace. The ad agency business “feels frenetic all the time,” she said. In contrast, working in Hyundai’s C-suite requires the “patience to understand all points of view before making decisions,” she said. There are “so many pieces connected to what we’re doing.”

Zepeda and her team had to make serious shifts as a result of Covid-19, as many marketing teams have had to do. They pulled advertising that didn’t feel right for the moment and created new content with footage they had on hand. Hyundai also pulled back a lot of its advertising to cut costs in the face of an economic downturn that’s kept a lot of people off the roads and away from car dealerships.

In the early days of the pandemic, Zepeda said, it almost did feel like agency life. “Things changed so rapidly with Covid,” she said. The team just had to “roll with the punches,” even when decisions that they made in the morning had to be changed already in the afternoon.

The automotive brand has stayed mostly quiet regarding the nationwide protests against police brutality. Zepeda said the response was “much different from Covid,” which required brand messages to consumers early on in the crisis. With the protests, Zepeda said, the first and most important message was for employees. The company’s CEO wrote a letter to employees stating that the brand puts people first and stands against racism. That’ll be followed up with an all-associates call on Friday to communicate that Hyundai is “supportive of what’s right as human beings.” Beyond that, “we’ll see,” Zepeda said.

@klundster Kathryn Lundstrom is Adweek's breaking news reporter based in Austin.