When The Jeffrey Group (TJG) took over the British Airways (BA) account for Latin America in December of 1999, the client’s image was suffering from a difficult corporate restructuring and unusually poor financial performance. Its new strategic direction was largely criticized because it countered the industry trend of larger fleets and instead focused on a smaller, more efficient fleet with a superior product aimed at the premium passenger. The company’s public relations in the region had been handled by individual agencies with no central management or strategic direction and inconsistent media contact. Once TJG put a cohesive structure in place for management and coordination of PR, its first major assignment was to leverage the pending global announcement of a record US$970 million investment – dubbed Next Generation – to overhaul the airline’s fleet and services and position BA as the airline of choice for the 21st Century.
With less than a month to prepare for the announcement, TJG found that the media in the six markets it would manage -- Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela -- were largely unfamiliar with the company’s strategy and that its local executives had little or no contact with journalists. The region’s national airlines had the strongest brands and consumer awareness, and January was a typically slow month given the South American custom of combining the holidays with summer vacations. In addition, most of the products and services being announced would not be available in the region for another two years.
TJG developed a plan to use the Next Generation announcement as the vehicle to jump-start the new PR program, creating visibility and driving home the message of BA’s leadership and innovation in the industry. Particular emphasis was placed on two industry firsts: the introduction of a fourth class of service between coach and business called World Traveller Plus, and the first business class with a fully horizontal bed, the Lounge in the Sky.
To maximize the opportunity, TJG developed a series of strategic activities to maintain BA and its message of leadership in the media over several months. It began with press events in each country’s BA office to announce Next Generation and introduce the key executives to the most influential business, travel and aviation journalists.
This was followed by a six-month schedule of pitches aligning different aspects of the Next Generation initiative with relevant media segments that best reached the target consumer. For example, stories on investment, strategy, and the business class product Club World were pitched to business media while stories about the new chefs, menus, and wines targeted the food and wine media. Health and design media were targeted for stories about the new lounge and cabin concepts designed for more restful travel. The Concorde’s new interior appointments were pitched to high-end lifestyle media.
To overcome the fact that it would be some time before the region’s fleet was brought up to the new Next Generation specifications, a group of journalists from the business, travel and trade media from each market were flown to London to see and experience the products and services to come, including the exclusive new executive lounges designed for extra comfort. To reach a wider audience, special trips were organized for more journalists to experience the Club World product using shorter intra-regional flights such as Santiago-Buenos Aires, Bogotá-Caracas, and Rio-Sao Paulo.
The tools used throughout the campaign consisted mainly of tailored press kits with a variety of appealing and reproducible visuals, press releases, and fact sheets for all of the major products and aspects of the overhaul. Packages were customized for the corresponding media being targeted. A catalog of colorful graphic material was created along with a system for regional fulfillment to keep a steady supply to photo editors throughout the region. Prior to this, visuals had been difficult for journalists to obtain and nearly none of the region’s top newspapers had photos of the planes, logos, or cabin interiors.
Several fact sheets were developed to cover a variety of information: the company’s vision of the future of aviation, the all-star chefs commissioned to create new menus, the new state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment system, the industrial and interior designers behind the new seats, cabin appointments and lounges, and information from the ergonomics and sleep studies used by the airline to fight jet lag and create a restful travel environment.
The Next Generation PR campaign was a huge success, generating continuous high-profile coverage across a wide variety of media and reaching the target consumer in the six key countries as well as the Latin American pan-regional press. The resulting coverage raised awareness throughout the travel trade and among the premium traveler market. Since the campaign began, BA has reported increased bookings, passenger traffic and revenues in the region’s key markets.
Highlights of the results analysis: 66 million media impressions generated over six months; an average of 4.4 key messages conveyed per placement; 98% of articles contained at least one key message in the headline or subheading; the average placement used 1.5 visuals from the media kit.
Furthermore, the campaign increased media interest in the company throughout the region as well as strengthened relationships between key journalists and local BA spokespeople. In addition, the new PR structure demonstrated that BA was a reliable source for journalists seeking information and spokespersons. Hundreds of media requests were answered throughout the campaign, establishing the company as a responsive organization that was committed to the region and the public’s need for information.