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The PR program that changed perceptions of airport testing

Golin won the ‘Corporate PR’ and ‘Reputation Management and Crisis PR’ at The Drum Awards for PR 2021 with its campaign for Collinson. Here, the team behind the winning entry reveal the secrets of this successful project...

The challenge

As the travel industry came to a pandemic-induced standstill, Collinson had a solution: airport testing. The problem? Few people knew Collinson, and even fewer people understood testing. We embarked upon a global PR programme to secure industry support for testing, drive public awareness, and change Government perception of its efficacy.

The strategy

We worked with the global CMO to craft a narrative reflective of the world’s current situation. The insight was simple and obvious: people wanted to travel but they couldn’t due to lockdowns or, if allowed, they were wary of doing so when it could mean quarantining for ten days upon landing.

The brand platform was clear: ‘Get the world travelling safely again’.

We established a two-pronged approach to position Collinson at the forefront of safe travel: a PR programme that would generate widespread national and travel media coverage for testing as a safer alternative to lengthy quarantines, and a PA programme to run in tandem; lobbying the UK Government, by showing public demand and scientific support for testing. And that was critical. Because everything we achieved would mean nothing without necessary Government buy-in. We needed those who had tested negative on departure to be allowed to fly, and those who tested negative on arrival to be added to the UK Government’s list of exemptions from quarantine.

While this was an international campaign, we would start building moment in the UK, where we could target international press, while Government buy-in would help tell the story internationally.

The campaign

Working with air cargo company Swissport, Collinson announced the world’s first in-airport testing facilities – which, while scientifically robust, couldn’t operate due to Government resistance.

We used the buzz generated by our facility news and wrote to the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, asking to work together on airport testing as opposed to quarantine. We leaked the letter to national and trade press, who began looking at our science as an alternative to long quarantines. We secured blanket national coverage, including The Times front page, BBC News Online, and broadcast interviews on BBC Radio 4, BBC channels and CNBC Asia. We kept the momentum going with thought leadership and industry-wide appeals, all building Collinson’s expertise in the area.

The prolific media coverage led to Heathrow coming on board AND five more UK airports and airlines, including Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, signing contracts to work with Collinson. With each new airline or airport partnership we made a new media announcement, each one drawing attention to airport testing. Then we went international taking the testing story to Asia and gaining international media hits that lead to Collinson signing Singapore Airlines, Air Canada and Scoot.

To position Collinson as a leader in ‘Getting the world travelling safely again’, we placed articles across international media; using stats, insights and virtual testing demos to inform safe travel procedures, ensuring Collinson’s experts were front-and-centre of the conversation.

The results

Corporate reputation scores soared vs previous four months. We saw a 138% increase in awareness; 97% increase in consideration; 74% increase in attitude; and 176% in advocacy – all unthinkable scores for Collinson previously. We also had a seat at the table – Collinson was invited onto the Government Taskforce on Testing, and led active industry discussions through industry bodyAirlines UK.

Collinson secured sizable contracts with major airlines, airports and venues - generating an entirely new revenue stream.

Collison went from being an unknown in the mainstream media, to being the go-to company for comment on travel testing and having international journalists on speed dial. The campaign resulted in 3,776 media placements (+60% vs previous 8 months); 29.9B media impressions (+102% vs previous 8 months); and 98.5% positive coverage (0.6% Negative, 22.4% Neutral). Blanket international media coverage across major national media outlets included BBC, The Financial Times, Sky News, CNBC Asia, The Telegraph, The Independent, SCMP, Straits Times, The Times (front page), BBC Radio 4.

Collinson is now recognised as a leader in the travel recovery space. Joint-CEO David Evans has forged a strong relationship with UK travel secretary Grant Shapps, and even spoke on a panel together alongside Sean Doyle, CEO British Airways in April. Having Collinson front and centre in such a panel would have been unthinkable at the start of the campaign.

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for PR 2021. To find out which Drum Awards are currently open for entry, click here.

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