Campaign: Turning crisis into good coverage for failed trip - Crisis Management

Campaign: Round the world 'copter flight Client: Jennifer Murray PR team: Redhead PR Timescale: July 2003-January 2004 Budget: £14,000

To raise funds for the World Wildlife Fund and celebrate 100 years of flight, pilots Jennifer Murray and Colin Bodill decided to attempt the first helicopter flight around the world via both poles. Redhead PR was hired to handle global publicity for the bid.

However, what started as proactive country-by-country promotion became a crisis comms campaign when the pilots crashed a third of the way through their journey in Antarctica.

Objectives

To gain coverage for sponsors, including Reuters and Tommy Hilfiger, and to promote the fundraising aim. To ensure the rescue mission didn't cost the Government any money. To protect the pair and their family from media intrusion.

Strategy and Plan

The possibility of a crash was always taken into account in the planning for PR surrounding this dangerous bid, according to Redhead PR managing director and founder Sara Tye. She says the key to this crisis planning was to ensure that in the event of a crash, the pilots would not be blamed.

After the crash, Tye set up a crisis media centre in her London home. This involved communication with the rescue team via satellite phone.

The story was being doggedly chased by the Sunday papers and Tye's aim was to keep journalists constantly fed with fresh details of Murray and Bodill's position and condition.

In the weeks following the crash the aim was to keep the media interested and continue positive coverage. With promotion for the sponsors in mind, who were seeking to target higher earners, this included exclusive interviews involving Bodill and Murray with broadsheet nationals, including The Sunday Telegraph. High-profile supporters such as Sarah Ferguson and Tony Blair were also highlighted, including a 'welcome back' party attended by the prime minister.

Work from 20 to 30 December included four statements, 130 personal emails, a round robin email to 300 media outlets and 190 calls.

Measurement and Evaluation

The coverage was tracked by monitoring press, online and broadcast media.

The story was used in the UK by 17 national publications. Four local newspapers, four TV channels, seven national radio stations, four news wires and three local radio channels ran the story.

Coverage from 30 December to 5 January when the story was fizzling out still included five national newspaper stories, an article in the South China Morning Post and slots on Channel Five's Terry and Gaby Show.

Results

Coverage for the crisis was 95 per cent positive and included mentions of the record attempt and fundraising mission. The Sunday Telegraph chief reporter Andrew Alderson, who was given an exclusive interview with Murray while she was convalescing in Thailand shortly after the crash, said it was the 'slickest' crisis communications operation he had ever seen.

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