CAMPAIGNS: Website's push to spur Delta demise takes off strongly

PR Team: Bill Scannell (San Jose, CA) Campaign: Boycott Delta Time Frame: March 2003 - ongoing Budget: $17

PR Team: Bill Scannell (San Jose, CA) Campaign: Boycott Delta Time Frame: March 2003 - ongoing Budget: $17

PR people will go to great lengths to monitor websites that attack their company. But one practitioner recently took great lengths to launch a media campaign to attack Delta Air Lines, and stop what he feels to be an invasion of privacy: the second Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, also known as CAPPS II. Bill Scannell, a software company communications director who splits his time between San Jose, CA and Austin, TX, was against the program from the first time he read about it. CAPPS II, developed by Lockheed Martin for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to screen passengers using home addresses, birth dates, and phone numbers, is intended to become common practice at airports across the country by next year. Strategy Hearing that Delta Air Lines would be the first to cooperate with the system, Scannell decided to launch a media and internet attack on the airline, calling for a boycott. When asked why he didn't attack the TSA or Lockheed Martin, Scannell cited the fact that neither offer consumer products, and that shares in the TSA cannot be bought or sold. "As a citizen," Scannell says, "I have to resort to the skills that I have. I'm good at what I do, and I got to do this campaign without having to consult anyone." Tactics Starting the day after the announcement of Delta's participation, Scannell registered the URL boycottdelta.org (cost: $17), and wrote the site's copy, assuming the screen name Ben Franklin, whose quote about safety and liberty adorns the home page. Scannell decided to adopt a sensational and provocative tone to grab attention with fake news stories on his home page, such as one saying, "CAPPS II collaborator Delta Air Lines has finally been recognized for their efforts to destroy privacy in America. Their prize? The 'Big Brother' award for Greatest Corporate Invader." He told Delta analysts what he would be doing, and started reaching out to bloggers first. "Bloggers are so incestuous," Scannell says, "and some of these guys get thousands of visitors a day." At the end of day one, the viral part of the campaign had taken hold. Next, he targeted online journalists, and with more coverage came more attention. Results In its early phases, the site got almost 200 e-mails an hour, according to Scannell, and total supportive e-mails have reached into the thousands. And while lower fares, a difficult economy, a war, and SARS may be more to blame, Scannell says, "I believe that my boycott movement has been primarily responsible for [Delta's financial] losses. I'm looking forward to bidding on the big Delta logo like people bid on the Enron one." Regardless, Scannell's site has been mentioned in nearly every media story that's been written about CAPPS II, including those appearing in The Washington Post, USA Today, the Boston Herald, and other local papers, as well as electronic outlets and CNN. He is especially proud of a New York Times article headlined, "A Safer Sky, or Welcome to 1984?" Many of the articles included his direct quotes. Delta communications officials did not respond to phone calls about CAPPS II. Future "While the right to launch a website is what makes America great, it does not provide people with the facts," says Robert Johnson, director of communication and public information for the TSA. "We are actively engaged in developing a system that will allow us to find the foreign terrorists and protect privacy rights. We believe the two can exist, and that is our intention." Scannell will continue to operate the site and its boycott. "If one person with $17 and a cell phone can wreak so much havoc, I think that's pretty cool," he says.

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