United pushes new gay-friendly image

CHICAGO: United Airlines, never considered an especially enlightened company, is developing a major integrated campaign to rebuild its image with gay and lesbian travelers.

CHICAGO: United Airlines, never considered an especially enlightened company, is developing a major integrated campaign to rebuild its image with gay and lesbian travelers.

CHICAGO: United Airlines, never considered an especially

enlightened company, is developing a major integrated campaign to

rebuild its image with gay and lesbian travelers.



United had been the subject of a 1997 gay and lesbian boycott prompted

by its opposition to a San Francisco ordinance requiring companies doing

business with the city to offer domestic-partner benefits. Once the

courts ordered United to offer such benefits, the company implemented a

package that was broader than what San Francisco required - but the PR

damage had already been done.



’In terms of revenues, we didn’t see an impact from the boycott,’ said

United manager of media relations Matt Triaca. ’But we suffered a black

eye in the (gay and lesbian) community, and clearly it’s a market that

we want back.’



Indeed, one study conducted last September revealed that 45% of gays and

lesbians identified with American Airlines, while only 40% listed

United. Another survey found that 85% of gays and lesbians went on

vacations in 1999, compared with a national average of 64%; and that

roughly 45% of gays and lesbians took overseas trips, as opposed to only

9% of the total US population. Such stats make them an attractive

audience for airlines, not to mention the travel industry as a

whole.



Triaca wouldn’t say how much United plans to spend on PR for the new

campaign, but did say there were no plans to take on outside agency

help.



While the PR component of the effort is still under wraps, it will

likely include everything from media relations to event sponsorships.

Advertising for the campaign will begin to appear in gay newspapers in

June.



The gay and lesbian PR push is only one of a handful of projects on

United’s PR slate. The company is also searching for an agency to

support new product launches with consumer PR and branding work.



Triaca declined to comment on whether the ’new products’ were Internet

offerings (United operates its own site and partners with a number of

others). He described the search as ’informal,’ noting that no RFP has

been circulated. Presently, United works with Fleishman-Hillard.



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