Glover Park Group (GPG) and United Airlines took home PRWeek Best Public Affairs Campaign award for “United to Cuba,” which supported United Airline’s successful bid for U.S. government approval for the airline’s proposed flight routes to Cuba.
In February, the U.S. and Cuba announced an agreement restoring commercial air service between the two countries for the first time in more than five decades. United sought to gain approval for historic flights to Cuba, but faced a complex landscape with challenges at federal, state and local levels.
The filing process was highly competitive, with every major U.S. airline applying for a limited number of flight slots to Havana. United, coming off a recent CEO transition, made a daily Newark-Havana flight the centerpiece of its proposal, which also included Saturday-only service from Houston Intercontinental, Washington Dulles and Chicago O’Hare, and an additional Saturday flight from Newark Liberty.
United enlisted GPG to ensure the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) favorable consideration of its proposal. Together, we launched an integrated campaign to position United’s targeted proposal as key to unlocking DOT’s historic opportunity to guarantee choice, convenience and competition for American consumers after nearly half a century.
To validate demand for commercial flights to Cuba from markets outside Florida, United commissioned a poll measuring Americans’ desire to travel by region. Findings indicated that Americans were eager to travel to the island and that they wanted a range of direct travel options from across the U.S. Specifically, results showed interest in traveling to Cuba was highest in the West and Northeast and nearly one-fourth of Americans were more likely to consider going to Cuba if they knew their closest airport had direct flights.
With the industry applying for a total of 57 flights to Havana – 42 of which originated from points in Florida – when only 20 flights were available, we were also able to make the case that United’s diverse network would help fill the significant service gaps left by its competitors by offering flights from four of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas and Cuban-American populations.
DOT was clear from the beginning that its overarching objective in selecting U.S.-Cuba routes was to “maximize public benefit.” GPG’s primary strategic imperative was to communicate how United’s offering was critical to DOT reaching this goal. United and GPG implemented an integrated campaign incorporating grassroots advocacy, owned digital and social channels, earned media and paid digital media, including social.
A focal point of our campaign was a website, UnitedToCuba.com, providing information on United’s bid and a tool for users to submit support letters.
To further familiarize the D.C. influencer community with United’s proposal and drive them to the website, we launched an aggressive paid campaign across three social media platforms – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter – as well as search, and used audience targeting and display advertising targeting on websites such as POLITICO and The Washington Post.
We consistently pushed to distinguish our proposal among influential audiences through media outreach and interviews with United’s leadership around filing deadlines and other significant moments throughout the process, targeting outlets that included national, Hill, transportation, Spanish-language and local publications. To amplify our message, we leveraged owned digital platforms, including United Airtime where we published our commissioned poll before pitching to target media.
Our campaign yielded more than 17,000 letters of support from customers and employees, and letters of support from influential federal, state and local leaders representing United’s hubs in Newark, Houston, Washington, D.C. and Chicago.
Most importantly, GPG’s campaign was a success, leading to DOT’s awarding United the greatest proportion of requested routes of any airline, eight of the proposed eleven roundtrip flights per week.