Boeing VP marketing Randy Baseler was in London yesterday to present the annual Current Market Outlook, but it also gave me a nice opportunity to talk to him about his blog. He obviously likes doing it and in fact seemed to enjoy discussing that more than talking through the mountains of stats in the presentation.
He says it started as "kind of a lark" but has "exceeded our expectations" (with 16,000-18,000 hits per month) and now he clearly regards it as an integral part of Boeing's marketing - letting them engage with people in a way that is otherwise difficult for a big corporation. In some ways though, you can trace its genesis back to Boeing's tactics to counter a perceived Airbus lead in marketing a few years earlier.
Anyway, I'll let Randy do his own talking: "We had a change of philosophy around 2000-2001 under Alan Mulally to engage the market more - the media, industry and customers. The whole idea was to get out more and tell our story. A lot of times if you asked Boeing questions then someone might answer, but we decided to get out more and tell our story.
"Airbus was always out there telling their story but also telling the Boeing story according to Airbus. So why were we letting Airbus tell our story? There was a conscious decision to get out and tell it ourselves. The blog was a natural extension of that change in philosophy."
Randy admits that when one of his communications team first suggested the idea, he had to have blogs explained to him. But the Dan Rather affair had just broken and he was interested.
Randy goes on: "That was the only thing I knew about blogs. So I said first of all you have to tell me what they are. It sounded like a great opportunity for us to respond to things that I would normally do in a conversation like this one but we could say it was interesting and link to different articles and show different considerations."
He readily concedes that Boeing launched with inadequate software and accepts some of the early criticisms he got from the blogosphere as a result. But he rejects the idea that the blog is somehow inferior because it's used to push Boeing's line and promote its products.
He says (and I sympathise with him on this one): "The first thing that was strange was that we were being told we were violating the rules of the non-rules blogosphere. So we decided to say what we were going to talk about and if you don't like that then you shouldn't read it. We do have a corporate fiduciary duty."
I've written before about Airbus' dilemma in knowing what to do about Randy's blog and, as it happens, he tells what he understands to be the story on that in Toulouse so far. According to Randy, Airbus' salesman in chief John Leahy considered the idea some time back, and eventually his colleague Adam Brown (by then vice president customer services I think, but recently retired) looked into it and produced his recommendation.
The proposal was that, yes, Airbus should have a blog. And there should be a four-person team to do it! Less than surprisingly the plan has never been implemented.