British Airways puts staff at the heart of 'return to skies' campaign

British Airways today (Friday) kicks off its first campaign since 2019 signalling a fresh direction for the world’s best-known airline brand.

The film features ground operations lead Chelsea Rawlings, aka 'the baton guy'
The film features ground operations lead Chelsea Rawlings, aka 'the baton guy'

With the new strapline ‘You make us fly’, BA is now putting its own staff – pilots, cabin crew, ground staff – at the heart of its marketing and communications. The British flag carrier is keen to both get its staff back to work, and reassure customers, ahead of the reopening of international travel on 17 May.

New CEO Sean Doyle, who took over the carrier last year, is keen to re-establish BA’s reputation for customer service. The former CEO Alex Cruz was heavily criticised for damaging BA’s brand in this sense. His reign was tarnished by industrial disputes with staff and controversial decisions to reduce legroom and stop serving free meals.

The campaign centres around a TV ad, created by WPP’s Ogilvy/Team Horizon, which first screens during Gogglebox on Channel 4 this evening. The film stars hundred of BA’s own staff and crew, and aims to reflect the “palpable sense of impatience and excitement at returning to the skies.”

BA’s head of global PR & social media, Victoria Madden, told PRWeek there would be a combination of paid and organic social activity behind the film “followed by corporate and consumer PR projects across corporate and consumer, which help reinforce the message around customer service and our people being at the heart of British Airways.”

The airline is taking a crowd-sourced approach to online content, encouraging its pilots to talk about their passion for flying again, and inviting customers to write to BA about the reunions they are looking forward to, with the hashtag #backtogetherstories.

Since the pandemic struck last year BA has ceased to use external PR agencies, instead running all comms in-house. Last week the airline announced a new corporate affairs director to run all comms and sustainability activity.

The TV commercial features the rousing swells of Flower Duet from Delibes’ opera Lakme - the same music that has featured in its advertising for over 40 years and is still used as the airline’s boarding music.

Last month the airline promoted Tom Stevens to director of brand and customer experience, its top marketing role. Parent company IAG, meanwhile, is in the process of reviewing all its agency relationships, including the media and creative for BA, which is currently held by WPP through bespoke set-up Team Horizon.

The aviation industry has obviously been pummelled by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on travel, with BA’s passenger numbers down by 85 per cent between July and September, compared with the same period in 2019.

Head of brand and marketing Hamish McVey said: “One of the main things we’ve had to do over the last 12 months during the pandemic is to be incredibly flexible and agile. There’s been a lot of change that’s gone on in terms of where people are flying to and the regulations for flying so we’ve had to make sure our marketing has adapted to those changing conditions.

"The other thing that has obviously changed is the need for us to reassure customers around flying safely during COVID, so we’ve created a lot of content around the customer experience when they come flying with us. We’ve had to adapt quite a lot.”

All crew in the ad are seen wearing face masks and all aircraft are doused in anti-bacterial sprays after each journey.

The airline is bracing itself ahead of forecast changes in coronavirus travel restrictions - with a risk-based traffic light system expected to be introduced.

The ban on foreign holidays is expected to be lifted for people in England from 17 May.

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