Campaign: BFlybe lands in M'chester with Best tribute

Flybe, the low-cost airline specialising in flights within the UK and to Europe, had been operating from Belfast City Airport for 22 years. In 2004 it increased its domestic network from Northern Ireland to serve 12 destinations to become the largest carrier at the airport.

Category Consumer Campaign/ Best Use of Media Relations
Campaign Launch of Flybe Belfast City to Manchester service
Client Flybe
PR team JPR

When Flybe decided to launch a service to Manchester, rivalling British Airways, it enlisted JPR to spearhead an attention-grabbing campaign.

To create awareness of the new service and increase market share – especially against BA. To underline              Flybe’s longevity in Northern Ireland and its commitment to the province.

Strategy and Plan
The two important dates were the first day of ticket sales (11 October 2005) and the day of the first flight to Manchester (9 January 2006). While easyJet was also announcing new European routes from Belfast International Airport, Flybe COO Mike Rutter briefed journalists on the airline’s Manchester service. He provocatively opened the challenge to BA ‘on the last route offered by the once major flagship carrier out of Northern Ireland’.

Meanwhile, JPR planned activity around Flybe’s connection to football (it sponsors Birmingham City FC, Norwich and Exeter FC), stressing that fans from Northern Ireland could now fly to watch Manchester United – which has a strong Irish fan base. Amid discussions with the Irish Football Association, football legend George Best died. As a result, Flybe decided to pay homage to the Belfast resident – and ex-Man U player – by naming an aircraft The George Best. It also announced that the plane would serve the Belfast to Manchester route.

To remain sensitive to the situation, Flybe and JPR immediately sought approval from Best’s family, who had already been overwhelmed by suggestions of statues, memorials and commemorative dinners. The family unanimously gave their blessing to the plane, and promised that, if the aircraft was ready in time, they would take its inaugural flight to Manchester for Best’s memorial service in the city’s Cathedral.

From this point the Best family was closely involved in the campaign, from selecting the life-size image for the side of the aircraft to choosing the guest list for a press launch. JPR liaised with photographers to choreograph the unveiling ceremony with photo opportunities in mind.

The Best livery was covered by red velvet, and a red carpet led the family to the aircraft. The velvet was removed by George’s father Dickie, and the aircraft was sprayed with champagne by son Calum.

In addition to the unveiling, business media were given bespoke press releases, while Flybe’s first commercial flight to Manchester in January 2006 was marked with a photoshoot of Coronation Street’s Samia Smith (who plays Maria) and Bill Tarmey (Jack Duckworth) boarding the flight.

To cope with the press interest, ISDN lines were made available in the Flybe executive lounge so that photographers could quickly send pictures to their editors.

Measurement and Evaluation
The campaign was covered in every major UK daily. The unveiling of the plane attracted 20 photographers, including those from press agencies such as Associated Press, whose pictures were used internationally.

In addition to local broadcast media, the BBC and Sky also covered the event, as did regional newspapers such as the Manchester Evening News.

Before Flybe began its Manchester service, BA sold an average of 2,000 seats a week on the route. In its first week, Flybe increased the total market to 3,000 seats a week, and took 45 per cent of the market share. Within six weeks, Flybe had overtaken BA, and after The George Best unveiling, total sales increased to 5,499 seats, with Flybe taking a 51 per cent share.

Flybe has since consistently out­performed BA, and says the route has not only exceeded its expectations but will return a profit six months ahead of target.

JPR calculates the advertising value equivalent for media coverage around The George Best event to be £65,000. The agency’s business press relations also reaped rewards, with headlines such as ‘Flybe threatens BA’s remaining Ulster route’. Reacting to the Flybe launch, BA rebranded its Citi Express regional services to BA Connect. However, described the move as ‘a half-hearted approach to low-cost travel’.

When Belfast City Airport was renamed the George Best Belfast City Airport in May 2006, George’s sister Barbara McNarry mentioned the Flybe aircraft in both print and broadcast interviews.

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