Campaigns: Corporate - BAA's Heathrow diary flies off shelves

Campaign: A Week At The Airport: A Heathrow Diary
Client: BAA
PR team: Mischief PR
Timescale: June-September 2009
Budget: £50,000

In the summer of 2009, Heathrow Airport appointed its first writer-in-residence to tell the story of the airport, its staff and passengers.

Objectives

- To support Heathrow's 'making every journey' brand proposition

- To build consumer empathy with Heathrow and BAA

- To provide a story about Heathrow that moved away from the traditional coverage of things going wrong at the airport.

Strategy and plan

The reputation of Heathrow is primarily formed by bad news stories about things going wrong, such as the Terminal Five opening.

BAA wanted a campaign to give a genuine reason for people to reconsider the way they think about Heathrow.

Mischief persuaded BAA to appoint the first airport writer-in-residence to tell the story of a week at Heathrow.

The resulting book would aim to capture the emotion of the airport, the people who work there and the 67 million passengers who pass through it every year.

A brief was issued to various authors and respected philosopher and essayist Alain de Botton was appointed.

He was given unprecedented access to all areas of the airport and full creative control over the finished book, giving credibility to the product.

De Botton met with passengers and airport staff to enable him to capture the human story of the airport.

Most of his time was spent at a writing desk in Terminal Five, providing passengers with the opportunity to end up as characters in the book.

A Twitter feed was set up so people could monitor the writer's progress. Extracts of the book were read over the airport's PA system and 10,000 exclusive copies were given out free to Heathrow passengers before going on general sale.

The entire process, from recruiting the author to publishing the book, was completed within eight weeks.

Measurement and evaluation

The story was covered in more than 300 national and international newspapers including The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Le Temps, International Herald Tribune and El Pais, while an eight-page feature appeared in The Sunday Times.

More than 50 broadcast interviews were set up at the airport during de Botton's residency including with BBC Breakfast, BBC Radio 4, CNN, BBC World Service and Sky News.

The story also appeared on websites such as trendhunter.com and springwise.com and generated positive conversations about Heathrow.

Results

A Week At The Airport: A Heathrow Diary reached number 48 in the Amazon book chart just two days after launch. It is now being sold in more than 50 countries worldwide and in all major international airports. In the UK, the book has sold more than 41,000 copies.

Second Opinion

Jill Coomber, Founder, Chocolate Communications

As an overall concept, I love this project. It's got all the elements for success - a news-worthy angle that is steeped in interesting content and loaded with innovation and creativity.

Taking on the mammoth task of humanising the airport that Brits love to hate is no small feat and Mischief has really managed to achieve some great targets with this project.

The use of social media as a support mechanism to drive further interest in De Botton's post and the use of live screens next to the philosopher's desk to see what he penned, served brilliantly to draw consumers into the conversation and the campaign.

I would be interested to know what the audience demographic was for the campaign. It does come across as a rather high-brow concept appealing to a very 'middle-England' AB1 audience, with exerts such as 'With the aggressive whistling of their engines, the airborne visitors appeared to be rebuking this domestic English morning for its somnolence'.

I would question whether De Botton would resonate with the majority of the 67 million travellers using Heathrow each year, but I can also see the appeal of him to the media and Heathrow alike.

A single project is never going to turn around the perceptions of Heathrow (particularly Terminal Five). It would be fascinating to continue the momentum and to see a follow-on campaign, maybe building on the concept with a younger blogger who resonates with a wider demographic.

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