2008 PR News Platinum PR Issue Winner: Online Communications

The winners and honorable mentions in this year's PR news Platinum PR awards issue exemplify the most innovative approaches to redefining traditional PR with anything-but- traditional strategies. From a marketing communications effort that united a country over the search for the stars of a 1950s TV commercial to an event that landed a flock of pink flamingos around the windy city, the following winner confirms that the PR profession has indeed stepped out from the shadows to take a front-and-center role in delivering business results to their own organizations, and to their clients. Below is the winner of the 2008 PR News Platinum PR award for online communications.

Airtran Airways & CKPR

Airtran Airways Puts a New Spin on "EweTube"

The cost of airline tickets burns even the most financially stable individuals, so imagine the toll it takes in students' malnourished bank accounts. With this in mind, national low-cost carrier Airtran Airways began the x-fares standby program, which offered students a cheaper way to fly in 2001. But, by mid-2006, x-fares was like a fifth-year senior at a frat party--too outdated to really connect with a new generation of students.

Mouthing Off

To refresh the program's image, the airline's execs partnered with CKPR in 2007 to unleash an online integrated marketing and PR campaign that would get students' attention in ways that were organic to them.

"it was mainly a word-of-mouth program," according to Rich Mules (VP and managing supervisor for C-K) and Rob Merritt (SVP and director of CKPR). "Airtran knew they would not be able to 'sell' these college students anything, but that they would need to connect with them on their level and invite them into the program."

Thus, Airtran U was born. A fake university that lived online at YouTube.com/airtranu, Airtran U was positioned as the "home of the really cheap standby flight." Of course, every college needs a mascot, so the team created Eunice the Ewe, a female sheep who acted as the face of the marketing efforts.

Anything But Sheepish

Once Airtran Ewe came to life, the team deployed the tactics needed to reach the target audience:

·         Competitive Edge: The team created a contest, hosted on YouTube (renamed "EweTube"), that encouraged college students to submit a video of themselves doing a cheer for Airtran U while dressed up like the mascot. Friends and fellow classmates helped drive traffic to the site by voting for their favorite; ultimately, the winner won four free round-trip tickets on Airtrain.

·         Getting Promoted: To promote the contest, campus media was the obvious choice. The team also distributed Eunice masks throughout college campuses, hanging them in bathroom stalls and wedging them between books at university libraries.

·         Face-Off: The team gave Eunice her very own facebook page, which garnered more than 600 friends by the end of the program. Then, they seeded blogs, created podcasts and developed a wikipedia entry to keep the conversation going.

Mile-High Club

The EweTube contest attracted 24,000 unique visitors, and between February and April 2007, Airtran's number of standby flights increased by an average of 30% compared to the same months in 2006.