As the developers and management of the world’s first Ferrari theme park (Ferrari World Abu Dhabi) prepared to open to the public in October 2010, Weber Shandwick faced a series of complex communications challenges. From a delayed opening, no advertising support and a media blackout to the death of a Sheikh on opening day, the team were flexible and responsive at every stage and succeeded in getting journalists from around the world excited about the attraction. There were extraordinary levels of coverage, and the launch was a real success in business terms, with visitor numbers in the first 60 days exceeding projections by over 20%, revenue from merchandise by 40% and food & beverage revenues up 20% against projections. In addition, guest satisfaction surveys were 85% positive, a phenomenal result for a theme park in the first few months of opening.
In 2007, the foundations were laid for the world’s first Ferrari - and largest indoor - theme park, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. Ferrari World is one of the signature attractions of Yas Island, a 2,500 hectare island off the coast of Abu Dhabi dedicated to leisure, entertainment and lifestyle.
In June 2009, the park operating company, Farah Leisure Parks Management, asked Weber Shandwick to become the project’s PR partner. The team’s goal was to tell the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi story to local, regional and international media and excite families and Ferrari fans in the run up to the official opening.
The objectives for the launch of the theme park were:
• Generate awareness of the opening of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi among media and consumers, primarily targeting families within the GCC countries. Foster long-term relationships with key journalists, and highlight the offering and range of attractions for all the family
• Drive people to the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi website
• Secure attendance by a large number of key media outlets (local, regional and international) to generate mass coverage of the opening
• Drive ticket sales at launch and in the subsequent months
From the outset, the team faced significant organisational and communications challenges. The opening of the park was originally planned for Q1 2010 but was then delayed to October 2010, so Weber Shandwick had to maintain momentum and keep positive stories about Ferrari World Abu Dhabi in the media throughout the summer and Ramadan period when many of the target audience took extended vacations and media consumption was low.
The park was being built at the peak of the financial crisis in the UAE and many development projects were being postponed. There was widespread speculation about whether Ferrari World Abu Dhabi would continue as planned. The client decided to delay any outreach to media until its opening was confirmed, so the team was not able to proactively release any news about Ferrari World Abu Dhabi until the announcement in May 2010, almost a year after being appointed.
The client decided to use PR as its only mainstream communications tool in the run up to the launch, and to delay an advertising campaign until post opening. This posed another challenge, as in the Middle East there is a close relationship between editorial and advertising. There was also a media blackout, which forbade the majority of media from entering the park for tours, photo shoots or filming from four months before the opening. In addition, official sign off for all media materials, images and activities had to be agreed by three parties: Ferrari, project owner and developer Aldar Properties and client Farah Leisure Parks Management.
The announcement of the opening date of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi was made at the F1 Barcelona Grand Prix on 6 May 2010. With just ten days’ notice, the PR team drafted media materials, liaised with the Grand Prix organisers and Ferrari PR teams to invite accredited media to a press conference, and worked with the Weber Shandwick office in Barcelona to handle local and international media, translate and distribute press kits, manage a photocall with Ferrari drivers and secure interview opportunities with spokespeople from Ferrari and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.
The completion of Ferrari World’s first attraction, a miniature recreation of Italy dubbed Bell’Italia, provided the next news hook. On 2 June, Italian National Day, 18 journalists from key UAE publications were the first media to step beneath the red roof of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. They were given an introduction to the project before being taken on a tour of the Bell’Italia and given the opportunity to interview key spokespeople and the Italian Ambassador.
On 20 July, to mark 100 days before the opening of the park and whet the media and potential visitors’ appetite, the team distributed a press release detailing the names of all rides, attractions and restaurants in Ferrari World Abu Dhabi for the first time. Weber Shandwick worked with the client to draft a feature in English and Arabic to bring the experience to life for a variety of target audiences including families, children and thrill-seeking Ferrari and F1 fans. This was sold into selected GCC lifestyle, men’s and women’s consumer magazines as well as short lead daily newspaper supplements.
Weber Shandwick and the FWAD in-house PR team worked with stakeholders including Etihad Airways, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and hotels on Yas Island to plan the opening event on 27 October, including the travel and accommodation arrangements of 600 local and international journalists.
But on the morning of the event, disaster struck. The news broke that 92-year-old Sheikh of Ras Al Khaimah, the last founding father of the UAE, had died. The Emirates declared a period of mourning, meaning public events and celebrations would have to be cancelled.
While they waited for an official decision on whether the opening event could go ahead, the team continued preparations, drafted reactive holding statements and handled hundreds of calls from journalists. Finally, at 4.30pm, just two-and-a-half hours before the event was due to start, the President’s office confirmed the event could proceed as a closed event just for the media, but with none of the planned entertainment or speeches. The Sheikh’s office also imposed a strict embargo on coverage until after the weekend.
At the scaled down opening event, Weber Shandwick responded quickly to host more than 300 journalists, giving them tours of the park and arranging impromptu roundtables, interview and photo opportunities, as well as distributing press packs, VNRs, and gifts of annual park passes.
Weber Shandwick pulled out all the stops to ensure the launch of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi was a success. With no advertising support and facing complex challenges, from the delayed opening and media blackout to the death of the Sheikh on opening day, the team were flexible and responsive at every stage, and met all their objectives.
The campaign got the media and potential visitors excited about the new theme park, generating awareness of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, fostering long-term relationships with key journalists, and highlighting the range of attractions for all the family.
The team achieved widespread positive media reviews of the park in local, regional and international media throughout 2010, with highlights including front page stories in all key English and Arabic dailies, feature stories in lifestyle magazines, and multiple hits in international titles worldwide.
From January to December 2010 the team generated widespread media exposure across television, radio, print and online outlets in the region and beyond, including major local and international outlets such as CNN, BBC World, the Guardian, Sky News, Fox News, Yahoo News, Abu Dhabi TV, Reuters TV, Dubai One, and Bloomberg TV. The total PR value of the coverage was estimated at US$12.9m. The team attracted more than 600 journalists from around the world to the launch, and despite having to significantly scale down the opening event, still managed to let 300 journalists experience Ferrari World for themselves, leading to coverage worth more than US$2m in the ten days after the launch.
The campaign also met the objective of driving traffic to the website, from 25,000 per month in Q2 2010, to a peak of 2 million visitors during the opening period October and December 2010. In addition, the client confirmed the increase in web traffic directly correlated with the increase in media coverage throughout the duration of the proactive PR campaign.
Most importantly, the pre-launch and opening activity, driven solely by PR, led to fantastic ticket sales
with visitor numbers in the first 60 days exceeding projections by over 20%, revenue from merchandise up 40% and food & beverage revenues up 20% against projections. In addition, guest satisfaction surveys were 85% positive, a phenomenal result for a theme park in the first few months of opening.