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Aer Lingus' winning airline PR partnership with The 2018 X Factor

We all know the power of the perfect PR partnership but finding and securing said partner and coming up with a mutually appealing deal can prove a tall order. Being joined at the hip with a partner that sings to a different tune can land you in hot water and, when it comes to the actual PR campaign, it can be a tough challenge to incorporate an airline into a story in a natural way. But get it right and your airline brand really can hit new heights.

Our campaign for Aer Lingus and successful partnership with hit TV show, The X Factor, raised the bar in best-in-class brand partnerships for airlines. So, what are the key considerations for marketers aiming to secure a heavenly hook-up – and how did we pull it off?

Make authentic connections

Rather like a marriage, solid brand partnerships are built upon sharing similar values and ambitions for the future. When seeking successful collaborations, it’s vital to identify like-minded brands that share or at least resonate with your own brand ethos. Authentic, synergistic connections are a must. You must also share much if not all the same audience demographics in order to reach a wider consumer target audience and create newsworthy PR angles they’ll love.

We sought a high-profile partner with whom we could secure broadcast media coverage and firmly set our sights on creating a campaign with the theme of achieving aspirational dreams at its heart.

The X Factor was at the top of our wishlist.  One of the UK’s most enduringly successful reality TV shows, in which aspiring members of the public compete to win a major recording contract, this show presented an exciting opportunity to capture the attention of millions of potentially new Aer Lingus customers – during multiple episodes, each attracting more than 5 million viewers.

Think big, think wow factor

Why think small potatoes when you could potentially team up with a big name that could propel you into a different league and put you centre stage? Thing is, you’ll need a big idea to match; a clever creative that immediately resonates with them – for which you’ve already done the preparatory logistics and costings legwork. As the saying goes, luck favours the brave and. Well, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

The PC Agency first approached Thames TV to secure an agreement for Aer Lingus to become a sponsor of The X Factor in 2017. We established a partnership deal to be one of the show’s providers of flights for its host and contestants. The production company was so pleased with our services that they came back to us this year, requesting to work with Aer Lingus as the exclusive airline partner of The 2018 X Factor in return for extensive primetime TV coverage on ITV.

Be transparent

It goes without saying that the deal you put on the table needs to be financially and creatively juicy or a no-brainer – or both. More crucial though is that you are honest about your intentions and business goals, providing clear details of what’s at stake for both parties, exactly what you’re willing to offer, and how you’ll both benefit from the relationship. Be very clear about what you’re asking for in return.

The PC Agency developed a strong relationship with the producers of The X Factor through regular dialogue to sell-in Aer Lingus as the sole providers of flights to The X Factor.

We worked with our client, Aer Lingus, to provide them with as much information as possible to demonstrate the brand-building benefits of working in partnership with The X Factor. This would secure exposure on the ITV network’s top-rated TV show, which would generate major brand awareness for the airline among the hard-to-reach 16-34-year-old demographic.

The deal: The PC Agency secured an agreement between Aer Lingus and Thames TV, which positioned Aer Lingus as ‘the airline partner of The X Factor’, providing complimentary flights for all contestants and film crew from London Heathrow to Los Angeles via Dublin to film at the judges’ houses (Simon Cowell, Robbie Williams and Ayda Field). In return, we secured primetime brand coverage for Aer Lingus across three separate live episodes of the show, three repeats and via ITV’s online media player.

The PC Agency also guaranteed that one contestant from each of the three categories of groups being flown across the Atlantic would post an update on their Twitter and Instagram channels mentioning Aer Lingus three times, which the airline would, in turn, repost on its own social media channels to further leverage the partnership. In addition, the airline could mention its partnership with The X Factor in any emails and marketing material to customers to reinforce its relationship with the top-rated TV show. We also negotiated free access to ‘bonus’ footage of contestants at airports and onboard the flights, which Aer Lingus turned into a ‘behind-the-scenes’ video for its social pages and has since clocked up nearly one million views.

To create an extra buzz for consumers, we also secured brand coverage for an on-air competition on six episodes of the TV show, offering four return flights in Business Class from any Aer Lingus operated UK airport to Los Angeles via Dublin.

The PC Agency acted as the liaison between legal representatives from Aer Lingus and Thames TV to ensure a contract was agreed and signed to seal the entire deal.

Build trust, be reliable

As the PR agency, you have to work hard to reassure both your client and their new partner that you can deliver the plan as agreed in a timely and professional manner – at every stage of the process.

During a five-month planning period, The PC Agency worked closely with the producers of The X Factor and Aer Lingus to develop a matrix of return flights from London to Los Angeles for 80 people. This would involve filming on the ground and in the air, hosting 55 contestants from the Girls and Groups categories and film crew and hosting ten contestants from the Overs category and film crew.

The PC Agency then worked in partnership with Heathrow Airport’s press office, their Head of Content and Filming and Head of Customer Partnerships to develop a detailed filming schedule at the airport for two flights, while minimising operational impact on the airport’s customers and other airlines.

The PC Agency organised all the filming on the ground at Heathrow Airport on the approach to the terminal, at check-in, in the lounge and boarding the flights, with the assistance of Aer Lingus to ensure as much of the airline’s branding appear in shot as possible. We worked closely with Aer Lingus to identify the right uniformed cabin crew to appear on the show to represent the airline and the brand. Extensive filming also took place on each of the two flights to showcase the airline’s onboard service and Business Class cabin, involving interaction between contestants and cabin crew.

Aer Lingus, Thames TV and Heathrow Airport were all extremely pleased with how smoothly the whole process unfolded, including the professionalism with which The PC Agency-hosted flights.

You see, relationships are built upon trust: be smart, efficient and reliable and watch them flourish.

Winning results:

The footage was screened on primetime ITV on 7, 13 and 14 October, as well as across repeats and was available online on the ITV Player for a minimum of 30 days following the first broadcast. On the first weekend, the show was the most watched show on the network on Sunday night, with an average of 4.7m viewers (rising to a peak of 5.5 million). On the second weekend, the two shows were watched by 5.4 million viewers (with a peak of 5.8 million) and 5.1 million (with a peak of 6.2 million).

Based on past episodes, ITV has calculated initial viewing figures in excess of 15 million across three episodes showing Aer Lingus branding and uniformed staff at Heathrow Airport featuring check-in, the Aer Lingus lounge, Aer Lingus aircraft taking off and featuring the in-flight service on board the Aer Lingus aircraft, showcasing its transatlantic Business Class cabin.

Aer Lingus has reported a substantial increase in booking enquiries and sales – and will continue to enjoy a place in the spotlight in the run-up to the final this weekend.