How WestJet Hit Public Relations Gold

By Heather Dande, Chapter Member

It’s Christmas time, it’s Christmas time! If you’re not in the Christmas spirit yet, this story is sure to turn that around faster than Will Ferrell’s eon-long burp in, “Elf”. WestJet, a Canadian based airline, selected a few flights to be the lucky receivers of a “Christmas miracle.” The airline found out each passenger’s wishes through a virtual Santa displayed at two airports, which passengers had thought nothing of it at the time. After arriving at their destinations, passengers were taken to a special baggage claim in which they were expecting to retrieve their baggage. Instead, however, hundreds of exquisitely wrapped presents addressed to each passenger poured out the baggage claim greeting hundreds of smiling faces. As the mass excitement of unwrapping presents began, WestJet’s camera team filmed the experience.

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Many are calling it a “Christmas miracle” while others are calling it a gross public relations stunt. Whatever the case may be, one cannot deny that WestJet struck public relations gold during the most highly anticipated seasons of the year for businesses. Let’s take a look at some defining characteristics of WestJet’s public relations:

Build Relationships

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Public relations is about (gasp!) RELATIONSHIPS. Good public relations is built up by leveraging on a previously built customer base, strengthening those relationships, and gaining new consumers and clients through trust. Listening to customers, perceiving a specific target audience, and strategizing a marketing plan can either make or break public relations.  However, although some might call it superficial, WestJet positively impacted their consumer base with something as traditional as a real “Christmas miracle”. They also engaged them in the activity by having passengers check their boarding passes in with the virtual Santa. They further engaged them by having them go on a hunt for their own Christmas presents much like a child would hunt for his or her presents on an early Christmas morning. WestJet even connected one woman with her family by giving her plane tickets home for Christmas. Consumers LOVE the essence of community, the holiday spirit of giving and receiving, and the excitement and rush of this time of year.

Captivate with a Creative Story

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Good public relations captivates its consumers with a creative story. WestJet hooked not only its passengers but also its almost 20 million viewers on YouTube with a feel good holiday video complete with a storybook style narrative, Christmas magic, and tears of happiness. The video appealed to great emotion showing the lengths WestJet went through to genuinely share the Christmas spirit. WestJet’s campaign was not only compelling, it also moved masses of people to share the video creating a surge of viral Christmas spirit that duly exposed the brand to millions beyond their 250 passengers.

Build a Brand

Public relations can either build up or tear down a brand. We live in a world of media hype in which public relations has for the most part taken over control from advertisers. The days of ingraining brand jingles into consumers’ heads are a thing of the past. Public relations is evolving into something much different- something much more personal. To a consumer, a brand is a perception, and that perception is molded by the hands of public relations. WestJet tactfully tied in the Christmas spirit into what it means to be a “WestJetter” noting at one point during which the narrator jovially says, “A WestJetter would say it was more than mere fun – miracles DO happen when we all work as one.” WestJet’s viral video exposed itself to almost 20 million people for a duration of almost five and half minutes- impressive for today’s iPhone obsessed generation’s attention span of roughly eight seconds. To draw masses of people in for five minutes and have it become a viral sensation in the midst of an already buzzing holiday season is quite a successful feat for any business.

Great public relations molds any good or service into something truly meaningful and WestJet did just that. It created an unforgettable experience to its customers, built a stronger and wider customer base, and now allows consumers to anticipate next year’s tradition. Public relations is often the most misunderstood out of the entire marketing mix, but when executed well its success will soar. (Ha! Soar…get it?)

Photo Credit: http://www.citynews.ca/files/2013/12/WestJet-viral-video-473×315.jpg / http://wpmedia.business.financialpost.com/2013/12/westjet5.jpg / http://www.ctv.ca/getmedia/04232929-c5b4-44b3-919c-0b5513a3816b/Westjet-intext.jpg.aspx

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