How do you get positive media coverage for a leading aircraft manufacturer in a year when it has faced a series of tough challenges and the aviation industry is suffering from the global economic downturn? Weber Shandwick rose to the occasion for Boeing, supporting the company through the critical Dubai Air Show with exemplary media relations and events that got the Middle East’s top business journalists to positively endorse Boeing again. More than 80% of coverage included Boeing in the headline, and only 5% was negative.  
The challenge
For aircraft manufacturer Boeing, 2009 was a difficult year. The global financial crisis had taken its toll on airplane orders across the aviation industry, and Boeing faced its own challenges in the form of delays to its game-changing 787 Dreamliner programme and changes in the leadership of its business units. 
The Middle East is an extremely important market for the aviation industry in general. Boeing noted in its 2009-2028 Current Market Outlook (CMO) that ‘air travel has grown at unprecedented rates (in the Middle East) during the past several years’. The CMO also predicts that the region will require 1,860 commercial airplanes by 2018.
In this tough environment, Boeing chose to use the biannual Dubai Air Show, the Middle East’s biggest aviation trade show, as a platform to tell its story to the media, and quell speculation.
Boeing worked closely with its Middle East PR agency, Weber Shandwick, to develop a communications strategy that would positively position the company among its key stakeholders and address any industry negativism. In the run up to the 2009 Dubai Air Show, headlines such as ‘Dubai Air Show opens amid low expectations’ summed up the mood.
The team was challenged to meet four communications objectives:
  • Position Boeing as a thought and technology leader in the aerospace industry.
  • Ensure the company was part of the ongoing media interest during the entire show
  • Steer coverage away from the aviation industry’s problems
  • Announce Boeing’s two airline orders and a new regional partnership
Strategy and planning
Planning for the Dubai Air Show began in August 2009, three months before the November event. Regular planning sessions were held between Boeing’s communications team in the US and Weber Shandwick in Dubai.
The agency team also helped prepare exhaustive planning documents, which included:
  • A comprehensive air show communications plan with a robust media strategy to ensure compelling stories were told throughout the event
  • Messaging to be used across Boeing’s business units
  • Biographies and background information on key journalists attending the show.
Although the company did have two good news announcements slated for the show, these were not strong enough on their own, and would be backed up with a series of media events hosted by Boeing, including a visit to Boeing’s facilities in the US before the show, roundtables, and special demonstration flights for the media.
The campaign
As part of its role in managing relationships with the regional media, Weber Shandwick began identifying key journalists who would be invited to participate in Boeing’s media events. The strategy was to limit the number of media participants, while ensuring that the right journalists were selected for each event so coverage was optimised in terms of reaching out to Boeing’s key stakeholders. The nature of the events also required attending journalists to have a good understanding of the aviation industry and Boeing.
The target media included all the mainstream business press in the Middle East, both English and Arabic. Despite its growing importance in the aviation sector, the region has only two aviation trade publications.
Key media contacts were approached individually weeks ahead of the show to gauge their interest and to book them as early as possible to ensure their presence at Boeing’s events.
In addition, Boeing organised a media visit to its defence and commercial airplanes facilities in Long Beach, California and Seattle, Washington just ahead of the air show. Influential journalists from some of the region’s leading publications were selected to attend.
The Dubai Air Show ran from 15 to 19 November 2009, attracting 52,978 industry professionals from 138 countries. During the show, Weber Shandwick was in frequent contact with invited journalists to make sure they attended the four roundtable events where senior Boeing executives shared briefs and updates on their business units.
A special flight for six journalists was also arranged during the show on a military C-17 aircraft.
During the course of the show the Weber Shandwick team continued liaising with key journalists and capitalising on spot interview opportunities that frequently emerged, while also supporting the Boeing communications team wherever required. In addition, the team coordinated the distribution of news releases in the Middle East using Weber Shandwick’s regional network.
Summary of results
The team’s longstanding relationships with individual journalists played an important role in securing the attendance of Boeing’s top tier target journalists in the Middle East at all the events organised by Boeing in the run up to and during the Dubai Air Show.
The campaign met all the objectives. As well as using the show to announce Boeing’s two airline orders and a new regional partnership, the team’s proactive media strategy ensured the company was featured in coverage throughout the event, and attention was diverted from the aviation industry’s problems and back onto Boeing as a thought and technology leader in the aerospace industry.
In total, more than 130 pieces of coverage of Boeing at the Dubai Air Show were secured in the Middle East. Analysis of the coverage showed 44% of the coverage was positive, while 51% was neutral and only 5% was negative, despite of the challenges in 2009 for the company and the industry.
Boeing executives were interviewed more than 35 times, and close to 50 journalists attended Boeing’s roundtables and media briefings.
A whopping 83% of Boeing’s coverage during the five days of the show contained headline mentions of the company, including: ‘Boeing’s Billions’ (business weekly Arabian Business); ‘Gulf market critical for Boeing’ (UAE daily Gulf News); ‘Boeing: UAE is a main contributor in the aerospace industry during the next 10 years’ (IAE Arabic business daily Alrroya Aleqtisadiah); and ‘Boeing sees passenger jet demand pick-up in 2012’ (USE daily Khaleej Times).
‘The Dubai Air Show was a wonderful success from a communications point of view,’ said Fakher Daghestani, Communications Director for Boeing in the Middle East. ‘The show has always been extremely important to us at Boeing, and this importance was reflected by the presence of the company’s top leaders. As a result it was crucial that our media relations campaign was focused on maximising visibility and I believe that is something we achieved in partnership with Weber Shandwick.’