fay-burginPR used to be a relatively easy role to define, but thanks to the rise of social and owned media, it’s a little less straightforward. Can you tell us what your role looks like?

I’ve been here for two and a half years now and even in that time I’ve seen a big shift in the communications that we deliver.

Of course social media was alive and well two and a half years ago, but it wasn’t leading the way in the sense of the communications we were putting out. That’s been a big shift for us.

One of the key goals when I joined was trying to reeducate my team around actively seeking online opportunities. There’s still a place for print and we would never ignore it, but it was very much about getting stories online that would be seen by millions of people versus a pocketful in print.

That’s been a big change for us and it’s taken quite a while to get the company to embrace and understand it.

Any examples of how this change looks?

A lot of it has to do with putting these ideas into action. So quite recently we did a fun PR stunt where we had taxies stop around London.

We put out a teaser on social media a few days before with clues about where the taxies would be and if you saw one, you could hail it and it would take you straight to Heathrow airport and to New York.

It was a fun quick and dirty stunt, but everything about that stunt was driven by Twitter or Facebook, and we hadn’t actually driven an entire story through social channels before.

Social media has ramifications beyond marketing stunts – how does it affect your team’s approach to PR?

For us it’s absolutely holistic. Social media has meant that customer relations are now live. People are tweeting from airplanes, which is amazing in many respects, but it also means that we have to be robust enough to respond to that and harness it in the best way possible.

It’s really important to be constantly monitoring trends and looking at how people are talking about certain topics so that we can actually tell people around the business from customer experience, to the teams that design the way our customer journey looks and through to our marketing team, what customers think about our brand.

That level of media interaction has meant that we’ve almost become that direct line back from the customer to the rest of the business.

Virgin is a small airline with a big brand. From a PR standpoint, how are you approaching the partnership with Delta?

The partnership is a very big piece of work. It involves PR on a proactive level as well as corporate communications, marketing, events and sponsorship. It’s a massive piece across our business.

What’s been clear about that partnership from the outset is that neither brand wants to merge into the other – we both want to keep our identities as they are because we’ve got fans and advocates that love us for who we are and what we do.

In general it’s fascinating to work with one of the biggest, if not the biggest brand in the airline world.

You get a lot of people saying, “you’re just going to get swallowed up,” but the Virgin Atlantic brand is so powerful – we’re actually a very small airline – it’s the brand that really carries us forward.

And Delta loves it. They kind of want that. They want a brand that’s a little cheeky, that does things a little bit differently and which complements the way they work.

Image via virgin.com.

Image via virgin.com.

Virgin Atlantic’s brand is known to buck convention. Take, for example, the Little Red launch. Few airlines would allow their founder to expose so much of himself. How do you decide where to draw the line?

The kilt stunt was very much my idea. The idea of having something on Richard’s underwear was probably more collaborative. But you know what? It was a really interesting project.

We were launching a short haul airline and we’d never done that before – we’d had a lot of naysayers in the industry who said it wouldn’t last.

We wanted people to know it was Virgin and we wanted the people of Scotland to sense we were here and going to have some fun and really that’s where it came from. Flashing your kilt, it’s what the Scots would use to go in to battle.

But don’t get me wrong, we got lots of mixed comments on it. In retrospect it was what we call a “marmite campaign” – you either love it or you hate it. I still stand by it, Richard loved it and still talks about it.

When we got to Scotland we realized that Margaret Thatcher had died, so that really meant that had we not done anything like that we wouldn’t have appeared in the press.

Richard Branson poses at the Little Red launch before the big reveal. Image via virgin.com.

Richard Branson poses at the Little Red launch before the big reveal. Image via virgin.com.

With Little Red LIVE, comedians performed on flights from Heathrow to Scotland during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Do people really want to watch live comedy in flight?

As a brand we’ve already been a little late to the party with events. We do a lot for our frequent flyers, but we’ve only recently started doing more for customers.

The Little Red LIVE campaign changed that. Because we fly to Edinburgh and the Fringe Festival is such a major arts festival for Scotland, it felt right do something a bit different and have fun.

A large majority of passengers were heading up to the Fringe, so we knew they’d be in the right frame of mind to accept comedy and accept something that’s a little different. And the skits were only 10 or 15 minutes.

The feedback has been brilliant. Last year we did it in a secret way. We said we were doing it but we didn’t say who the comedians were. This year we’ve been very overt and actually talked about the comedians and harnessed their brand power and that’s actually been far more beneficial for us.

Comedian Simon Brodkin performs on Little Red flight to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Comedian Simon Brodkin performs on Little Red flight to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Do you expect Virgin Atlantic to experiment with more event marketing?

Last year we identified that we need to talk far more actively to a slightly younger demographic, more to the 25-30 year old. We started to look into passion points and music really fell out of that. It felt like the right thing for us to explore, partly because of Virgin Records – we thought it was a nice overall brand affiliation.

So, we created a version of our clubhouse at a music festival in the U.K. We wanted to create a space where people could have a few drinks, listen to good music and be comfortable. We put some hot tubs outside.

That was the first time we ever tried to take an airport experience like that out of an airport and it was fantastic.

There was lots of learning – we used social media and there were a lot of people sharing and bragging about where they were, which worked, but we didn’t talk enough about our destinations.

It proved to us that that we need to create these experiences. It’s absolutely a key way for us to engage with our audience.