Unscheduled Communications/Breaking News: 1st Place

Welcoming Home Olympic Gold Medalists

On February 20th, we witnessed our Winnipeg-based Canadian Women’s Curling Team (Team Jones) make Olympic history while winning a gold medal in Sochi. Later that day we also were informed they would be returning home four days later and we wanted to make sure they had a gold medal worthy welcome home.

Our initial meeting to pull this event together included:

  • WAA President & CEO
  • Director of Operations
  • Director of Airside Security
  • Manager, Communications & Public Affairs
  • Communications Specialist

Our initial plan included:

  • Increased security presence at the airport for the arrival
  • Development of a fan greeting zone
  • Placement of media for clear “first arrival” visuals and for a scrum with the team upon arrival
  • Working with Curl Manitoba to secure a bagpiper to pipe our gold medalists into the terminal in true curling fashion

Within a few hours of Team Jones’ win, Curl Manitoba sent out a tweet releasing their flight home details including date, airline and time. As word quickly spread on twitter, we made a decision to “go big or go home” and we decided to make this an event, as opposed to just letting it happen.

In the couple of days leading up to the arrival our community really became involved in this event and we needed to make sure everything was well planned and that communications channels were working:

  • We worked with Air Canada, who graciously allowed us access to the Air Canada Lounge after hours as a staging area so Team Jones could freshen up after a long flight, so we could gather dignitaries and so we could have a calm space to brief everyone before the event kicked off
  • We worked with one of the airport tenants, Tim Hortons, to create a special edition Team Canada donut to be handed out to waiting fans
  • We worked with Canadian Heritage to secure 700 paper Canadian flags to hand out to waiting fans
  • We granted access to Global News Winnipeg to broadcast their entire hour long 10 o’clock newscast from our Arrivals Hall including having multiple live cameras around the airport to capture all the excitement
  • A friend of Jennifer Jones wanted to help make the event even more special, and arranged to have O’Canada sung once Team Jones was in the Arrivals Hall
  • We worked with Winnipeg’s Mayor to give him a special place in the welcome home party
  • Our airport Marketing and Communications teams designed and displayed special signage on the VIDS across the terminal, we put out our “Hug Rug” and secured a red carpet for the team to greet fans on, asked our advertising company to switch some of their digital signage during the arrival, sent out invitations via twitter, facebook and email
  • Our Manager, Communications & Public Affairs used local media on the day of the arrival to communicate with fans, as well as those arriving at the airport for regularly scheduled flights, about event plans and setting out expectations for the evening
  • Finally, with 30 minutes until the flight arrived, four RCMP dressed in Red Serge came to the airport and said they were willing to help out anywhere we needed them.

We had a few challenges to address including:

  • How do we know if Team Jones has actually made their connection in Toronto and will be on the scheduled flight to Winnipeg? Air Canada was also kind enough to inform us when Team Jones made their connecting flights, so we would know if they were going to arrive on time.
  • How do we make sure media has a clear shot of the arriving Team and the fans greeting them? We worked with media to communicate our goals and challenges, and stationed them in an area that would allow them access to the Team, without blocking the view of fans or other airport passengers.
  • How do we make sure other passengers are able to get off the flight, and other arriving flights, without being blocked by fans and media? We worked with our security teams to rope off a red carpet area for fans to greet the team, while allowing a security controlled access for other passengers to by-pass the awaiting people and get straight to their luggage or out the doors. We also worked with Air Canada to take Team Jones straight into the Air Canada lounge which allowed the other passengers a chance to get out of the arrivals area before the Team came down the stairs.
  • What can we present Team Jones with to make their arrival even more special? WAA President & CEO Barry Rempel was on hand to present team members with limited edition WAA Coin and letters of congratulations.

Project Goals: 

The goal of this project was to help reinforce Winnipeg Richardson International Airport’s position as the front door to our community. As opposed to being a by-stander when high profile travelers arrive, we decided to throw a welcome home party and invite the community out to join us. We wanted people to feel that they were welcome to come to the airport, and we wanted our travelers to feel like they were home.

We felt our goals would be met if we had a good turnout of fans, if media were receptive to the event and if Team Jones was happy with the outcome.

Production: 

All elements for this project were created in-house. WAA’s Marketing staff created signage for the VIDS within the terminal. Our Communications Specialist designed an invitation that was distributed to WAA staff and partners, and was posted on our facebook and twitter feeds.

An event plan was created with input from Communications, Marketing, Operations and Security. We made sure the goals of Communications were accomplished in conjunction with Operations and Security to ensure safety of our passengers and fans at all times, and to ensure airport operations were not disrupted during that time. Additional security personnel and stanchions were brought in to help us with crowd control and our first responders were on stand-by in the terminal building in case of a medical emergency. All members of the event team were well briefed, and their roles clearly defined to keep the evening running smoothly.

Communications also prepared a media notice and kept media informed of event plans. Communications also worked with family members of Team Jones to make sure they were the first ones to greet the Team on our “Hug Rug” and to give media that key visual of hugs and tears on their arrival home.

Additional members of our Goldwing Volunteer Ambassadors were brought in to help greet fans and to give the Team a warm welcome. Our “Hug Rug” was cleaned and prominently displayed to help reinforce its place as your sign you’ve arrived home.

Our local Tim Hortons Manager spent the weekend designing a special edition Team Canada donut and securing all approvals from national Tim Hortons to ensure we could distribute the donut to fans and that we could promote it with our local media.

Evaluation: 

We felt our goals would be met by measuring social media metrics. We also looked at news reports to see if they indicated that the event was held at Winnipeg Richardson International Airport, as opposed to just saying the team arrived in Winnipeg. Finally we looked at the content of social media messages referencing the airport.

We put up 3 different posts relating to Team Jones arrival, including the invitation, a photo of the team when they arrived and a photo gallery the day after. Each of these posts saw 20% increase in Likes, as opposed to other posts. The post with the invitation had 12 shares, which is a large increase over our normal average of zero shares. And finally these three posts were seen by just over 4,000 people on facebook.

We saw an increase in twitter activity. Our media monitoring agency reported 75 tweets were sent including mention of @ywgairport. Our usual number is between 12 to 20. Some of the more notable tweets were:

cjbodymindsoul: At Winnipeg Airport looks like they are getting ready to welcome home @TeamJJonesCurl cc @theheat_8 pic.twitter.com/Tr46j7Fuzd 4:14pm, Feb 24 via Twitter for iPhone - Retweeted by YWGairport

Cameraman_Jer: The special edition donut created by @TimHortons 4 @TeamJJonesCurl at @YWGairport tonight!!! @globalwinnipeg pic.twitter.com/oHtlvRddfI 8:59pm, Feb 24 via iOS - Retweeted by YWGairport

MichelleLissel: We are set up and awaiting Team Jones arrival at @YWGairport! pic.twitter.com/QnjIPjdOsr 9:10pm, Feb 24 via iOS

CameraGuyKurt: Every media outlet is at @YWGairport, and the plane is still 30 minutes out. Getting ready... pic.twitter.com/wUrsFcHrSc 9:35pm, Feb 24 via iOS

Cameraman_Jer: This will be a very busy & emotional spot at @YWGairport in an hour. @TeamJJonesCurl lands in #Winnipeg! pic.twitter.com/E5es7TbLmH 9:39pm, Feb 24 via iOS

McNabbonGlobal: @TamaraOnGlobal @fe_wilt @CameraGuyKurt @YWGairport how do we get a "hug rug"? That thing Is sweet? 9:59pm, Feb 24 via Twitter for iPhone

Jeff_Hnatiuk: Welcome home @TeamJJonesCurl As you will see from the crowd at @YWGairport we are all extremely proud of you. Congrats and thank you! 10:00pm, Feb 24 via Twitter for iPhone

AndreaSlobodian: A big crowd @YWGairport awaits @TeamJJonesCurl's arrival. Some people have been waiting for hours. pic.twitter.com/paNmgkFYv3 10:15pm, Feb 24 via Twitter for BlackBerry®

JillOfficer: Thank you to @YWGairport Pres. Barry Rempel for the President’s Award of Excellence! & thanks for our welcome home! pic.twitter.com/XAmTS90ExK Mar 5, 3:28pm via UberSocial for Android

Media were very happy with the set-up and the arrangements made. The stories were all favourable and made mention of Winnipeg airport. Some of the more notable stories were:

Golden curlers greeted by heros’ welcome at Winnipeg airport
http://globalnews.ca/news/1170546/golden-curlers-greeted-by-heroes-welco...

Jones Curling Rink Arrives to Golden Homecoming
http://www.chrisd.ca/2014/02/24/jennifer-jones-curling-team-gold-medalli...

Jones team gets hero’s welcome
http://www.winnipegsun.com/2014/02/24/jennifer-jones-rink-arriving-home-...

Team Jones returns home to jubilant crowd
http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/Jones-team-expected-home-t...

Our goal was accomplished because crowds felt welcome to come to the airport and everyone was positive following the event. Media were eager to point out that they were at the airport and it really felt like an airport owned event, instead of one were were thrust into dealing with.

Budget: 

Due to the speed at which this event came together, very few additional costs were incurred. We worked with resources we already had at our disposal and did not have any additional staffing costs.

We incurred a cost of $500.00 so we could hand out Tim Hortons specially designed donuts for free.