Turkish Airlines, the company which rises up

Willy Clauzel, translated by Melisande Hemar
3 Juin 2013

Recognized as the best European airline company in 2011 and 2012, Turkish Airlines achieves a boom growth. Despite a sports sponsorship strategy similar to the Gulf companies, it is however the subject of a controversy caused by a company policy considered too religious, which damaged the chief executive’s career, Temel Kotil.

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Turkish airlines, which was created in 1933, is THE most dynamic airline today. Over the last ten years, the number of travelers rose from 14 million to 39 million passengers in 2012. It is also the first worldwide company with 223 served destinations. 

Its dynamism costs a lot. The company didn’t hesitate to invest millions to attract two international stars for an advertisement: Kobe Bryant, the NBA basket star from Los Angeles Lakers and Lionel Messi, the Argentinean genius from FC Barcelona. Ismail Gercek, management member of Turkish Airlines justifies himself: “A partnership with a sports international star as Lional Messi strengthens our leadership position; we are one of the fastest-growing airlines in the world with a record number of destinations served by our company”.   

The sport is a new bastion

Now that it has launched in the sponsorship field, Turkish Airlines announced its partnership with Borussia Dortmund a few days ago. It is a successful communication strategy, as the German club sees its place skyrocket since its qualification for the Champions league finale at the expenses of the Real Madrid, although favorite. This partnership follows others, signed a few months ago, with international clubs like Manchester United and FC Barcelona. In addition to football, the Turkish company reinforces its partnership which costs millions with the Euro league Basketball at the Euro cup competition and becomes entitled the Turkish Airlines Euro league.   
Turkish Airlines is not the pioneer of this centered sport market strategy. Companies from the Gulf, especially Emirates, have been using sport as a communication vector over almost ten years. The company from Dubai is well-known in the sport world as the main shirt sponsor of Paris St-Germain, AC Milan and soon Real Madrid. The brand effect had a stronger influence when the United Arab Emirates launched itself in the naming of stadiums and in particular with the ultra modern surrounding wall of the Emirates stadium built in 2006 for Arsenal.    
All those companies’ directors agree that sport’s visibility is a low risk investment overseas even considering the millions invested. Ahmad bin Said al-Maktou, the sheick CEO of Emirates recently revealed that the communication budget grant to sport was only 227 million euros a year. Therefore, the famous Barca’s shirt sale led to a fierce competition. Qatar Airways finally won the jackpot and made Blaugrana’s shirt the most expensive in the world with 57 million euros spent per year, for three seasons.

A disputed policy

The sport’s image of sympathy is facing a polemic created by mercantile politic decisions. It seems that the Muslim religion is being put forward by Turkish Airlines’ strategy. In fact, last April, Turkish Airlines airhostesses were forbidden to wear lipstick and nail polish. A statement was issued saying that “a basic, fancy and pastel coloured make-up is preferred”, because this “could impair the visual integrity” of the cabin crew. Turkish Airlines was forced to withdraw this ban following a lot of complains posted by Turkish people on social networks.
Speaking for its chief executive, Temel Kotil, the company announced at the beginning of May that “the crew is able to use any colour it pleases. This ban was not approved by the hierarchy”. The latter did not appreciate Temel Kotil’s point of view as he was dismissed later in May by the board of directors and its president Hamdi Topçu.   

Even if the lipstick controversy was not adopted, it is followed by a set of Islamic measures which are revealing the company’s “Islamisation” such as the stewardesses’ ankle-length new uniforms announced in February, the ban of alcohol on domestic and international flights, the design of seats for the Muslim prier on flights, or the prohibition of tattoos and blond or red colored-hair. Would the reason be a simple ideological choice from its directors or a business strategy goal to conquer a new market? They remain silent but the fact that 49% of the company capital is owned by the state may be the reason.

Turkey is ruled by the Islam-rooted Justice and Development party (AKP) headed by the Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The latter initiated anti-secularist decisions in the country, that reduced the old Ottoman Empire’s chance to accede to the European Union.