Best ‘Traditional Still Works’ PR Campaign

American Airlines turns nation’s attention to flying and its future post-bankruptcy

American Airlines and Weber Shandwick pulled off a PR coup in 2011 by transforming the buzz about American’s bankruptcy into admiration for its audacious purchase of cost-cutting new planes.

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American Airlines was the only network airline not to have filed for bankruptcy since deregulation in the early l980s. But in July 2011, quarter after quarter of reported losses had made declaring bankruptcy a strong likelihood.

American was looking at travelers questioning whether it would be in business, media and analysts wondering if management could turn the airline around, and angry, anxious employees and investors fearing wholesale layoffs and service suspensions.

Here’s how Weber Shandwick and American Airlines defused the potentially explosive issue of further losses in Q2, exceeded their PR goals, and met this crisis head-on:

  • Weber Shandwick got the message about American’s state-of-the-art aircraft buy into 80 percent of media coverage.
  • Satellite interviews with American Airlines senior execs aired on five national broadcast outlet shows.
  • A news conference at Dallas Airport about the new planes garnered 60 journalists, 2,000 people and 3,000 tweets, plus more than 12 million impressions.
  • They landed 470 old-style media placements (plus social media) and 360 million total media impressions on the new aircraft order.
  • American announced the “largest aircraft order in aviation history” on the day it disclosed Q2 losses.
  • Weber Shandwick delivered the biggest product news in two decades at American Airlines.
  • The message that American would have the industry’s newest, most fuel-efficient fleet in five years dominated the July 20, 2011, news about the airline.

This remarkable effort has earned American Airlines and Weber Shandwick the top honor of Best “Traditional Still Works” PR Campaign in the 2012 PR Daily Awards.

The Weber Shandwick team that produced this stunning triumph of old-style and social media PR included Ryan Mikolasik, Michael Sperling, Tim Loecker, Brooke Barrett, Cameron King and Barbara Horton. The total budget for this one-day turnaround media blitz was very low.

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