In the context of the crises to unfold over the last year, the tragic events of 11 September eclipsed all others. In the immediate wake of the tragedy, Virgin Atlantic implemented a crisis PR campaign to communicate with passengers quickly and effectively the impact on flights. When Virgin despatched the first flight into US airspace, once restrictions had been lifted, the PR team ensured it achieved widespread media coverage, underpinning travel updates for the still-limited service.
On 17 September, Virgin announced plans for the restructuring of the firm, anticipating the collapse in demand in the airline sector. Emphasis on the need to act swiftly ensured largely positive coverage, despite some questions over the speed at which the decision had been reached.
Coverage of redundancies was largely limited to the day of announcement.
The anticipated slump soon materialised, with concerns over the security of air travel abundant. Virgin Atlantic called a media photocall with Ken Livingstone and Sir Richard Branson at Heathrow Airport to showcase new security measures.
Moves towards recovery also saw Virgin Atlantic's traditional rivalry with British Airways re-ignited, so while BA organised a promotion with the Daily Mail to fill unsold transatlantic seats, Virgin ran a similar campaign with the newspaper's arch-rival the Daily Express. A further partnership with The Sun saw a planeload of Sun readers flown to New York as part of the 'I love New York' campaign, which gained impressive news and promotional coverage in the tabloid.
When the industry began to turn the corner, Virgin Atlantic ensured that the press were briefed for the first increases in services, the first recruitment drives, and so on. The announcement of an order to purchase a fleet of Airbus A340-600 planes was greeted as news of optimism in the airline industry as a whole, and from Virgin.
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A report from the Association of Community Health Councils claimed that a 90-year-old woman had been kept waiting for 95 hours for treatment at Aintree. The in-house PR team and Kenyon Fraser sought to communicate that the patient was, in fact, under observation. In the next 24 hours, the agency succeeded in reducing the impact of the negative messages and putting the Trust's story to the media.
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