Client: Virgin Atlantic Airways (New York/London)
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: The Spirit of New York
Time Frame: October - November 2001
Budget: $25,000, plus cost of flight
When New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani issued his plea to draw tourists
back to New York City following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Sir
Richard Branson, founder and chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways, was
listening. Prompted by Branson, British tabloid The Sun ran a contest
offering to fly a planeload of lucky passengers to New York from London
on October 31 on Virgin Atlantic.
The free flight, renamed "The Spirit of New York," marked the launch of
a television and newspaper campaign in the UK, promoting travel to the
From a PR perspective, the goodwill gesture availed Virgin the
opportunity to garner substantial media coverage. From a business
standpoint, Virgin had the chance to showcase its new ground and
on-board security measures.
Certainly no stranger to the spotlight, Branson was out on point,
spearheading the campaign.
To maximize media exposure, he took 200 of the passengers on
double-decker buses from, where else, the Virgin Megastore in Times
Square. Heading downtown, the exuberant passengers could be seen hanging
out the windows and over the sides of the bus wearing Virgin Atlantic "I
Love New York" t-shirts, and waving US and UK flags.
"(Branson) flew on the plane, he rode the bus, he waved the flags, and
he facilitated bringing the charitable donations over," says Wendy Buck,
PR manager at Virgin. "We knew we needed great visuals," she adds.
However, wide-eyed, flag-waving tourists can only get you so far.
"I got the call two weeks before the flight to try and get Mayor
Giuliani to attend," recalls Lori Levin, VP of corporate affairs for the
Virgin Group. "I got to the right person, and they were gung-ho."
At a media op held at city hall, Giuliani posed with the passengers,
holding aloft a t-shirt that read "Yo! Knighted We Stand," in reference
to the honor to be bestowed upon the mayor some time next year.
Afterward, the group was escorted to Ground Zero by Giuliani's head of
operations so British firefighters could deliver donations that they had
collected for the families of their fallen US comrades.
For the price of the round-trip flight, plus less than $25,000 in
marketing materials, Virgin attracted coverage on no less than 70 TV
stations, including CBS, CNN, and FOX, not to mention scores of print
and radio hits, according to Buck. And though the trip was the focus of
the coverage, details of Virgin's security measures did trickle down
into a number of publications, she added.
Over in London, 40,000 people entered the competition - enough to fill
120 jumbo jets. Branson anticipated that the promotion alone would yield
$1 million of tourist expenditure in New York.
Soon after, Branson headed to Washington, DC to testify at the
congressional hearings on airline security. That's not to say the
campaign has lost its legs.
"What we're doing is sending (Giuliani) an invitation, hopefully to host
him when he gets knighted," says Levin. "We'd also like to find a
partner publication (in New York) to perhaps bring 100 New Yorkers over
Meanwhile, Virgin continues its support for the city by collecting
in-flight donations for the American Red Cross, UNHCR, and the UN