CAMPAIGNS: Financial PR - City analysts primed for easyJet float

Client: easyJet

Client: easyJet

PRTeam: Grandfield

Campaign: Flotation on the London Stock Exchange; placing with US investors

Timescale: July-December 2000

Budget: Undisclosed

After substantial growth since its launch in November 1995, easyJet, one of Europe's leading low-fare airlines, wanted to fund new planes and reward employees by raising pounds 221m in a stock market flotation. The firm is now valued at pounds 840m.



Objectives

To generate financial media and analyst support for the business and its flotation when most commentators were only familiar with easyJet's high-profile founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou. To communicate the strength of the management team led by CEO Ray Webster.



Strategy and Plan

Grandfield had four months to prime City analysts at a time when many of easyJet's competitors were struggling to make money. The consultancy needed to turn the focus away from easyJet's battle with Barclays over airline charges at London Luton Airport.

A review of media perceptions was a key first step. A sample of 20 analysts was broadly positive about easyJet's business, though respondents were not aware of its key differentiators and strong management.

Since 75 per cent of easyJet's bookings are made online, Grandfield could justifiably position the company as both an on and offline organisation.

A press campaign began with media training for Ray Webster and finance director Chris Walton. This was done in-house by Grandfield. Over 12 weeks, Webster was introduced to City journalists of 20 national papers and online publications. A parallel programme for Walton included interviews with CFO Europe and Financial News.

Grandfield began its series of placed articles with a profile of Ray Webster in The Sunday Times on 20 August. This was followed by stories in nationals including The Observer, The Daily Telegraph, The Financial Times and The Independent detailing easyJet's corporate culture, internet sales, an exclusive on new non-executive directors and the firm's taking part in a 'fly-on-the-wall' documentary .

The 'intention to float' release was followed by a media visit to easyLand, the company's headquarters at London Luton Airport. Grandfield rallied journalists from 13 national newspapers, plus aviation trade and investment magazine hacks, for a briefing explaining the airline's business model and growth potential. Twenty stockbroking analysts from outside easyJet's syndicate of investment banking advisers attended a financial presentation on 25 October.

The indicative price range of 250p-350p a share was covered by every national, newswire and broadcast network. The narrowed range, followed by the official prospectus and beginning of conditional dealings two weeks later provided pegs for further media contact, particularly broadcast interviews with Bloomberg TV, Sky News, BBC News and CNBC.



Measurement and Evaluation

easyJet's flotation was one of the most prominent stock market debuts of 2000. It was also successful: the placing of new shares with institutions was ten times over-subscribed and an over-allotment option saw a further 29 million shares issued. Inititally priced at 310p, shares rose more than ten per cent within seconds of trading.

The 'Stelios factor' attracted much tabloid interest, but broadsheets referred to 'the impressive Ray Webster', easyJet's 'skilled management' and 'the underlying strength of the executive team'.



Results

Grandfield managed to overcome the City's preoccupation with the Luton Airport dispute and a misconception that easyJet was a one-man b(r)and. The consultancy successfully positioned its management team as capable stewards of a FTSE 250 company.

Media interest was sustained post-flotation, with further requests for interviews from nationals including the Daily Mail and financial magazines. easyJet shares are now 15 per cent higher than at the IPO.



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