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BAA ‘A Week at the Airport. A Heathrow Diary’ campaign

BAA ‘A Week at the Airport. A Heathrow Diary’ campaign

Best practice from Mischief PR.

In the summer of 2009 Heathrow appointed its first ever writer-in-residence to tell the story of the airport, its staff and passengers.

The Challenge

To support Heathrow’s “making every journey” brand proposition and build consumer empathy with a corporation that is routinely criticised for appearing a secret, unfriendly organisation.

The Solution

Recognising that the reputation of Heathrow is primarily formed by “bad” news stories when things go wrong (such as the opening of Terminal 5) the PR campaign had to create a genuine reason for people to reconsider the way they think about Heathrow.

After much discussion with BAA (the owners of Heathrow), Mischief convinced the corporation to appoint the first ever airport writer-in-residence to tell the story of a week at Heathrow.

The resulting book would help to humanise Heathrow by capturing the emotion of the airport, the tens of thousands of people who work there, and the 67 million passengers who pass through it each year.

A brief was issued to various authors and Alain de Botton – one of the world’s most respected modern philosophers and essayists – was selected to the post.

Mr de Botton was given unprecedented access to all areas of the airport and full creative control over the finished book – a bold move by Heathrow, as the airport was effectively opened up for literary critique, but one that gave instant credibility to the project.

Mr de Botton had numerous meetings with passengers and airport staff – from BAA chief executive Colin Matthews to baggage operators – to enable him to capture the human story of the airport.

Much of his time was spent at a writing desk in Heathrow Terminal 5 providing thousands of passengers with a live brand experience and an opportunity to end up as a character in the book. Social media feeds via Twitter enabled people to monitor the writer’s progress.

Extracts of the book were read over the airport’s public address system and
10,000 exclusive copies were given out for free to Heathrow passengers before going on general sale.

The Constraints

Mischief only had eight weeks from point of brief to execution. In this time an author had to be recruited, signed up, all airport access arranged (no mean feat considering airport regulations), a suitable publisher found, a route into retail established and a 200 page book written! To put this into perspective the average publishing process normally takes over 12 months.

The Budget

Budget – including all fees and expenses – totalled £50,000.

The Result

Over 300 national and international newspapers covered the story including
The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Le Temps, El Pais culminating in an eight-page feature in The Sunday Times. The International
Herald Tribune carried the story on their front page applauding Heathrow for the innovative marketing initiative – a sentiment that was replicated on thousands of online news sites and blogs.

Over 50 broadcast interviews were set up at the airport during Mr de Botton’s residency including BBC Breakfast News, BBC Radio 4: Today, CNN, BBC
World Service, Sky News and the BBC Culture Show.

Influential websites such as and helped generate thousands of positive branded conversations on news, blogs and social media sites about Heathrow and its act of marketing transparency.

By creating our own media and telling the real story of the day-to-day running of Heathrow we have seen a positive change in online sentiment as people begin to understand and appreciate the phenomenal effort and expertise that goes into running the world’s busiest international airport.

This understanding has helped foster a new sense of nationalistic pride and respect towards Heathrow – demonstrated through the previously anti-Heathrow newspaper the Evening Standard concluding that Heathrow is finally an airport Britain can be “proud of”.

‘A Week At The Airport: A Heathrow Diary’ reached number 48 in the Amazon book chart only two days after launch. It is being sold in over 50 countries worldwide and in all major (rival) international airports.

- 316 pieces of coverage
- £1.3 million advertising equivalent
- £4.5 million PR value
- 119,000,000 opportunities to see
-  £26/1 return on investment

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