Non-Stop PR at 37,000 Feet

11 years, 9 months ago

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Kristy Nicholas outlines the strategy for putting airline ExpressJet on the map.



In late 2006, our CEO approached me about launching our unknown, previously ‘behind the scenes’ airline brand to consumers across the Western, Southwest and Midwest regions of the United States. The vision was 24 simultaneous press conferences coordinated with local government officials, media and community groups to announce ExpressJet’s new non-stop service that would offer time savings, convenience and comfort.

So, the question was how to define and successfully execute the strategy with a single PR person and a small agency supporting our efforts? Here was our answer.

Step one: develop a plan and supporting materials to make covering the story easy.

Reporters are pitched non-stop. So, to get them to cover our new non-stop service we devised a package to appeal to both traditional and Internet 2.0 reporters.

The roll-out effort included an ‘electronic’ tri-fold press kit with a DVD containing a corporate fact sheet, a brief company history, key executive bios, frequently asked questions, route maps, destinations served, broadcast quality video, high and low-resolution photographs and ExpressJet artwork (logo, fleet design and interior aircraft diagram).

The key was a belly band around the kit that announced this was time sensitive material – so if you wanted to scoop the story, open the kit now!

Step two: achieve buy-in through visiting and collaborating with the local communities

Before our executive team hit the road, we surveyed each key press conference site. By meeting face-to-face, we learned the local flavor and capabilities of each city.

We tailored each local release to fit ‘their’ story making it easier for the local community to understand ‘what’s in it for me’ and support our new service.

Step three: empower ‘road warriors’ to become company spokespeople for presence in each community

Asking the Vice President of Maintenance to host a press conference as the company spokesperson on live television when he’s spent his career in the belly of an airplane instills real fear. We knew our story needed a face in each community and that I couldn’t be everywhere. So, we empowered senior management to become spokespeople and they did a terrific job.

People respected their efforts because they were genuine. To help them prepare and stay on message, we created a reference binder. The binder included all the materials within the press kit as well as talking points and a backgrounder on the airport and local community officials expected at their event.

We went so far as to include a diagram of how to put together the backdrops so that no one was rushing around right before their big moment. As the CEO said when he returned, "it couldn’t have gone better."

Step four: recognize unique opportunities to generate distinctive, local coverage

Once our road warriors returned, they were full of great ideas for local stories. We took those and turned them into coverage, generating more buy-in within the local communities.

For example, we ordered all of our inaugural cookies from a local, Spokane baker – one of our key launch cities. The Spokesman-Review, Spokane region’s largest daily newspaper, featured a story "These cookies are really taking off" highlighting our support of a local business.

We also provided complimentary transportation using our charter fleet to Good Morning America host, Robin Roberts when she was the key note speaker during the North Carolina Girl Scouts luncheon. This unique opportunity provided us a method to highlight two different lines of our business and support a good cause. We created signs for the Girl Scouts welcoming Ms. Roberts – the perfect photo to accompany the great local coverage.

Step five: measure results


In addition to feature stories in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and L.A. Times, we garnered over 670 news placements communicating the key messages of time, convenience and comfort in every story.

These results earned over $7.7 million in advertising equivalency and generated over 80 million impressions.

When approached with this idea, it seemed like the impossible task. By breaking our strategy down into steps, we got the job done and exceeded expectations.

The results were rewarding yet paled into comparison to the smile on the Vice President’s of Maintenance’s face when he told me about his outstanding television appearance. I just smirked and said, "Yes, I know – great job. I was watching."

 

 


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The Author

Kristy Nicholas

Kristy Nicholas, Director – Communications, ExpressJet Airlines Inc., Houston, Texas.

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