WestJet Christmas Miracle: Fort McMurray Strong
Gold Public Relations Agency of the Year: Edelman
When WestJet decided to surprise and honour nearly 1,000 residents who were affected by the tragic May 2016 fire, it was a deeply personal story for them. Several WestJetters lost their homes and the community of Fort McMurray was one they had operated in for years. Agency Edelman was tasked with generating mass media attention around the “Fort McMurray Strong” video and demonstrate to the Canadian public that WestJet was committed to the community.
Beyond sensitivities around capitalizing on a tragic event, the agency faced a number of challenges including a lean budget for a national campaign ($45,000 CDN), media fatigue, an overcrowded Christmas marketing season, a locally-focused story and the fact that WestJet was in its fifth year of doing “Christmas Miracle” videos. Furthermore, while the wildfires were a huge story in the summer, many outlets had stopped discussing it.
The primary target was the people of Fort McMurray. It was important throughout the entire process that they felt honoured and supported, and that the team’s efforts helped bring joy to a community that had gone through the country’s worst natural disaster ever. The secondary target was the Canadians that the team wanted to share the story with, which included leisure travellers aged 35-55+, university educated individual and those with a middle to high household income in the cities where WestJet operates.
Insights and Strategy
WestJet spoke with key stakeholders including the Mayor, fire chief, the local Red Cross, local WestJetters and local families who had been affected to determine how the company could best support with its recovery. Through this research, the team heard that many of the victims felt that they had been forgotten after the fires were extinguished and the news cameras left town. They wanted the country to know that they still needed support, especially heading into the holiday season.
Edelman’s 2016 Trust Barometer revealed that Canadians deeply care about businesses leading the charge when it comes to social change and that spokespeople who are relatable are more trusted than an organization’s employee or CEO. Armed with these insights, the agency focused on telling a story that would resonate with Canadians about what WestJet did for the community of Fort McMurray, and that if willing, this powerful message should come from the Fort McMurray residents who were impacted.
The framework for the strategy included developing compelling narratives, connecting on a local level through mini media tours and giving media behind-the-scenes access.
Media were not invited to attend the Snowflake Soiree to keep the focus on the families. Due to the public nature of the event, it was likely the event would attract media attention, so Edelman armed WestJet with a plan and statement for journalist inquiries. As a result, it created a double news cycle when media heard about the event. Six of the families involved in the Snowflake Soiree were asked and agreed to participate in post-event media relations and the agency worked with each to bring their true story to life. Families were armed with briefing packages prepared by Edelman to ensure seamless logistical execution in each city. The team developed comprehensive key message documents, Q&As, tailored pitches and a news release to ensure strong coverage. Once the video was launched, Edelman activated its national network of experts and kicked its media relations efforts into high gear, pitching local, rural and national media outlets across the country.
The campaign was a huge success and generated 4.8 billion impressions (5,958% over objective), 1,061 media hits (112% over objective), 75% pull-through of at least one key message (versus a 60% objective) and less than 1% negative sentiment. Additionally, the success of the media relations campaign helped drive sales and social engagement through strengthened connections between travellers and WestJet. Online earned media hits generated 20,200 engagements; hashtag usages of #WestJetChristmas totaled 11,714 – a 30% increase from 2015; the video itself received a combined total of 9.8 million views on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube; WestJet’s website received 256,000 visits; sales through social increased four times over WestJet’s annual average; and WestJet saw sales of more than $900,000 from people who booked directly after watching the video.
Video direction and production: studio m