Smooth sailing for relaunch of American Queen Steamboat

Approximately 420 feet long and accommodating up to 436 passengers, the 17-year-old American Queen is reportedly the largest flat-bottomed paddle-wheel steamboat ever built.

American Queen Steamboat Company (Memphis, TN)

Lou Hammond & Associates (West Palm Beach, FL, and New York City)

Inaugural Season of the American Queen Steamboat

February-December 31,2012

About $200,000

Approximately 420 feet long and accommodating up to 436 passengers, the 17-year-old American Queen is reportedly the largest flat-bottomed paddle-wheel steamboat ever built. It stopped running in 2008 until a group of travel-industry veterans formed the American Queen Steamboat Company in 2011 and put it back in commission on the Mississippi River in April 2012.

Lou Hammond & Associates was hired as AOR.

"We had to communicate why we're going to succeed when previous owners had failed," says Tim Rubacky, SVP of marketing at the steamboat company.

Partnerships were established with Elvis Presley's Graceland, Priscilla Presley, who christened the boat as its godmother, as well as The Peabody Hotel, a luxury Memphis property.

Media relations, social media engagement, and a blog helped drive messaging, which stressed the steamboat's enhancements, uniqueness, and the positive economic impact it would have on the region.

In late 2011, Rubacky and company CEO and culinary director Regina Charboneau met with travel agents nationwide and outreach began to traditional media and bloggers. Presley's involvement was announced on March 6, 2012.

The steamboat company and Memphis city officials estimated the boat's return would have an annual regional economic impact of $89 million, which was widely publicized.

A February job fair hosted by the steamboat group in Memphis was promoted locally and picked up nationally.

The renowned Peabody Hotel ducks, which for nearly 80 years have marched daily along a red carpet to swim in the hotel lobby's fountain, performed the official inspection of the American Queen on April 26 on behalf of the city. "Media were invited to the inspection and it garnered national attention," says agency VP Michael Hicks.

The official launch ceremony followed on April 27 at the Beale Street Landing. Travel agents, city leaders, boat crew members, and more than 60 national and local media members attended. Presley christened the boat and conducted media interviews.

Charboneau conducted a New York City media tour in October. Members of the press were hosted on cruises and day tours in various ports nationwide.

The company's in-house team made regular posts to its Facebook page, and added in-depth updates and information about the boat on its blog page.

Onboard crew members encouraged guests to post their photos and stories to the steamboat's Facebook page and their personal social media pages.

The Peabody Hotel ducks were on board to inspect the vessel.

Rubacky reports $65 million in bookings to date (average cost for a weeklong cruise ranges between $7,000 and $8,000 per couple).

"We couldn't be more pleas-ed," he says. "To so quickly resurrect this level of interest in our product and an entire sector of the cruise industry that had disappeared for four or five years is astounding, especially in a challenging economy."

The job fair drew more than 2,600 people to apply for 300 positions. Coverage topped 100 placements (more than 333 million impressions) in outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, American Way, Southern Living, Travel Agent, House & Garden in the UK, and Delta Sky in Japan.

The Facebook page currently has almost 10,000 likes.

Ongoing outreach is focused on showcasing the boat's success to consumers and travel agents. 

PRWeek's View
There were a lot of interesting stories to tell here and this team did a superb job of telling them - both through media relations and through owned channels. The blog is particularly robust and engaging. The partnerships with Graceland, Priscilla Presley, and The Peabody Hotel were all wise and paid off in terms of generating interest. Along with this, they aligned nicely with the boat's links to the South's heritage and hospitality. Rubacky notes the Presley and Graceland connections were particularly helpful in garnering international attention.

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