No vacation experience is more steeped in Americana or heavy with history than steamboatin’. Consisting of three authentic steam-powered paddlewheelers (the legendary Delta Queen, grand American Queen and magnificent Mississippi Queen), the Delta Queen Steamboat Company (DQSC) has managed to capture the glory of this bygone era. But in spring 2002, DQSC was in danger of sinking financially. Two boats had already been docked due to bankruptcy when, in May, Delaware North Companies (DNC), a global leader in hospitality, retail and food-service management, threw DQSC a lifeline – successfully bidding for the company at auction and saving the boats from a dry-docked retirement.
DNC pledged to “Save the Queens” and return the three steamboats to the river, just in time for the Delta Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
New DQSC owner Delaware North looked to The Standing Partnership in June to provide national public relations support for the flagship’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration, slated to begin in less than two months’ time, and to turn around the negative impression that the boats were shut down.
With only a few months left in her Diamond Jubilee year, the Delta Queen steamboat needed national attention to announce her comeback and commemorate 75 years on America’s rivers. In cooperation with The Standing Partnership, Delaware North Companies pledged to “Save the Queens” and support the return of the boat s to the river, starting with the legendary Delta Queen, a National Historic Landmark.
Based on the target markets identified by the DQSC sales and marketing staff, The Standing Partnership first initiated an internal discovery process and Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis with Delaware North representatives and staff at the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. Key findings led The Standing Partnership to develop key messages that would be enforced throughout the campaign:
· The Delta Queen Steamboat Company is going ‘full steam ahead,’ thanks to Delaware North Companies.
· This National Historic Landmark is sailing for the first time in 2002, marking her 75th anniversary and the first year under the umbrella of Delaware North Companies.
· The Delta Queen travel experience has not changed with new ownership, and passengers are invited to come aboard for her 75th anniversary celebration.
Secondly, the team conducted a number of soft soundings among travel agents and consumer media contacts in order to determine the best ways to convey these 75th anniversary messages. Given that most media and travel agents were familiar with the Delta Queen product, but were unfamiliar with Delaware North Companies (and given that travel agents were concerned about a potential shutdown), the team chose to highlight the new ownership and the significance of the May 31 acquisition while the on-site public relations staff handled the logistics of the 75th birthday bash in the home port of New Orleans.
After the initial approach was developed, TSP researched various media outlets, seeking travel writers with an enthusiasm for history, Americana and close-to-home travel experiences.
The Standing Partnership developed a comprehensive media relations program designed to accomplish Delaware North Company’s primary objective: to generate maximum publicity and interest around the Delta Queen’s 75th anniversary and encourage travel bookings and passenger reservations.
Strategies included:
· Generating national visibility for Delaware North and DQSC among key target audiences, positioning the story as “hospitality giant saves American steamboat heritage and keeps a national treasure afloat;”
· Communicating the newfound stability and security of DQSC with prospective passengers and travel agents; and
· Use the DQSC purchase and 75th anniversary of the Delta Queen as a way to establish and grow Delaware North’s overall corporate positioning.
To announce the comeback of the Delta Queen under Delaware North Companies, the team drafted and distributed releases on both the acquisition and the 75th anniversary. Distribution was done via PR Newswire, a first for the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. Further distribution via re-introduced the Delta Queen to travel writers curious about the boat’s fate.
TSP recommended pitching a variety of angles to national print, radio and television outlets who had covered steamboatin’ in the past. Other targets included “Today,” the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, national radio outlets, and various travel magazines. Story angles included: patriotic vacations close to home, following in the footsteps of Mark Twain and Lewis & Clark, survival of unique transportation means, an audio voyage of yesteryear, the tradition of steamboat racin’ and more.
Using the Delta Queen port schedule as a guide, the team developed and distributed customized media alerts for each port the Delta Queen reached during her inaugural cruises. Select target markets included Baton Rouge, La.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and St. Louis. Along with the 75th anniversary news, local media were invited to cover the boat’s local arrival and tell the story of her historic comeback under Delaware North Companies.
 In just under six month’s time, the media relations program achieved desired results, reaching an audience of more than 2.9 million people (2,930,471) with national placements in such high profile media outlets as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, “Today,” ABC Radio, Copley News Service, Casual Living, The Orlando Sentinel, Travel World News and more. The majority of these stories included one or more of Delaware North Companies’ key messages. Gene Sloan of USA Today’s travel section will cover the story in 2003, focusing on the successful launch of all three DQSC vessels. His on-site visit and cruise is slated for March 5, 2003.
In addition, the “First Arrival” campaign achieved regional coverage for port arrivals in Baton Rouge, Chattanooga and St. Louis, key markets for Delaware North Companies and the Delta Queen Steamboat Company.
Furthermore, the media blitz raised the profile of DQSC and Delaware North Companies, resulting in increased bookings and reservations from the previous year. On Jan. 13, 2003, DQSC announced that it had experienced the highest call volume and booking levels since the company resumed operation in May.
According to Lucette Brehm, on-site PR manager for DQSC, the average media placement resulted in a flurry of calls to the reservation department: “Any media placements and stories we have feed the momentum, enhance awareness of the steamboats and increase sales,” she says.