Special Events: 1st Place

What aliens? A Midpoint Celebration at DIA and nothing else

With many eyes on DIA’s $544 million Hotel and Transit Center program, there is plenty of pressure to build the project on time and on budget. Therefore, when the HTC reached its halfway milestone in October 2013 while still on track for a 2015 opening, there was certainly good cause for celebration. With a combination of otherworldly ideas, careful planning, strategic objectives and a wildly successful social media plan, the HTC and DIA communication teams executed one of the most successful events in the history of the airport.

Project Goals: 

DIA reached the midpoint of the HTC construction in October 2013, driving the need for a monumental celebration.
Following a series of discussions with internal and external stakeholders, we determined that this event would need to accomplish the following: highlight the significant progress that had been made, showcase the strong collaboration among program partners, engage key stakeholders to continue supporting the program, and provide an opportunity for key influencers, stakeholders and the media to begin visualizing the finished product. This event needed to draw from previously successful events at DIA, but take everything to a higher level.

Production: 

PLANNING

To begin the planning process, we determined that our target audiences would be: DIA employees, HTC program employees, the media and key stakeholders. Attention then turned to creating an exciting concept that would generate attendance and attention. The theme most unique to DIA seemed to be the long-standing conspiracy theory; that the airport sits on top of the headquarters for a top-secret alien organization. Because the media has covered this theory for years, including a bit on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report in 2012, we knew it would be well received.

We discussed four objectives by which event success would be measured:

  1. To demonstrate to a collective audience of at least 300 key stakeholders that the HTC is on-schedule for completion in 2015 by highlighting the significant (visible) progress made on-site in the past year.
  2. To maintain trust and confidence in the HTC team by reinforcing the strong collaboration and advancement among partners, key stakeholders and supporters.
  3. To engage the public via a robust social media push, receiving at least 100,000 social media impressions.
  4. To receive significant traditional media attention in the form of at least 1 million media impressions.

Planning took seven months and then, with less than a month before the event date, it was determined that we needed to add three additional events to the schedule in order to properly accommodate all HTC and DIA employees and staff. This threw a serious wrinkle in the planning and put great pressure on the $75,000 budget set for the event.

IMPLEMENTATION

The main event included a conspiracy-themed video, a time capsule connecting project partners and a robust social media plan to create hype.

The team began by executing an informative, creative and funny video to play at each event. The goal of the video was to promote key project messages while introducing the alien theme to the attendees. What started with Denver Mayor Hancock quickly expanded to include his four mayoral predecessors, each of whom played a pivotal role in the funding, foundation and growth of DIA. Working around the schedules of five Denver mayors required patience and flexibility. The video played on the concept of the popular AT&T ads with a man (the Mayor) talking to focus groups of children who make funny, yet informative remarks about DIA and the Hotel and Transit Center. As Mayor Hancock interviewed the children, the conversation turned to the alien conspiracy, the other mayors took notice and began a phone tree conversation with each other. Hilarity ensued and the video received rave reviews (Mayor Hancock even asked for a personal copy).

The social media plan called for an aggressive two-day push on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, including conspiracy-related content. The defining moment occurred when a DIA Media Relations Manager Tweeted a photo of a “fossilized” plaster alien skull with the comment, “A strange find while building @DENAirport's Hotel and Transit Center.” In minutes the post reached more than 10,000 Twitter users. Among the 110 other posts included outreach to reporters and a touch on topical issues:

  •  “One hour until the celebration of the #DIAmidpoint of the hotel and transit center!”
  •  “@KDVR is concerned about our cryptic Tweets – rest assured there is NO news here. None. Not at all. #DIAMidpoint #Lookaway”
  •  “The government #shutdown is NOT affecting construction of the underground alien bunker. That is all. #DIAMidpoint #conspiracy

The efforts went viral and brought in a flood of positive comments about the social media “personality” of DIA. We had unintentionally created a new brand identity on social media.

Meanwhile, the time capsule included everything from an iPhone to a DIA art booklet to Mayor Hancock’s personal Broncos jersey. Dozens of items picked by internal and external stakeholders went into the capsule before it was ceremoniously dropped into the underbelly of the HTC (and, to the surprise of all in attendance, into the waiting green hands of an alien comrade).

For the three additional events, the team was able to plan evening and morning events for the DIA employees who work various shifts. The events gave employees an opportunity to sign the time capsule, watch the video and peruse the information stations. For the HTC employee event, crews were treated to an afternoon BBQ and were then escorted onto the event site to sign the time capsule, watch the video and look through the information stations. DIA management was also on hand to thank the groups for their continued support and hard work on the Program. There were many comments made by the crews that they couldn’t believe that the event site had been a construction area the day before!

Other important elements contributing to the success of the events included:

  • A set of information stations driving project messaging, allowing attendees to learn about the art program, paleontology and history, construction progress and the HTC’s ongoing efforts with local M/WBEs.
  • A bevy of guest speakers, including Mayor Hancock and the Manager of Aviation, Kim Day tied the event together, provided a project update, thanked guests and HTC partners, reinforced key messages and introduced the information stations. Hosting an event in the middle of an active construction site presented a number of challenges from access to guests to. However, the events did allow for a number of creative features, including a lighted path with signs that served as site tour guides, as well as the ceremonial lighting of completed project elements, showing project progress.

Evaluation: 

Objective 1: To demonstrate to a collective audience of at least 300 people that the HTC is on-schedule for
completion in 2015 by highlighting the significant (visible) progress made on-site in the past year.

Result: The audience of the main event alone exceeded 500 people, with a collective total over the two-day period of 1,000 attendees – a number 100 percent higher than anticipated. The setting of an active construction site also provided an up-close look at the substantial progress.

Objective 2: To maintain trust and confidence in the HTC team by reinforcing the strong collaboration and advancement among partners, key stakeholders and supporters.

Result: Kim Day, Manager of Aviation at DIA, sent a personal note to the DIA communications team, calling the event, “The best event ever at DIA.” The collaborative time capsule also brought everyone together and fostered a sense of HTC pride.

Objective 3: To engage the public via a robust social media push, receiving at least 100,000 social media impressions.

Result: The event received a total of 2 million social media hits – surpassing the original goal by 2,000 percent and re-defining the social image of the airport. Those impressions came from a series 110 posts, messages or comments over the two-day period. During the height of the push, #DIAMidpoint became the top trending hash tag in Denver.

Objective 4: To receive significant traditional media attention in the form of at least 1 million media impressions.

Result: The event garnered 6 million total impressions through TV, radio, print and online media.

Budget: 

Overall, we successfully executed four events, hosted 1000 attendees over two days, provided them with food, alcohol, giveaways and a week’s worth of alien fodder, all for a total cost of around $82,000 – barely surpassing the budget originally set for the planning of just one single event. In the end, our attendees came away with a positive impression of the HTC program and the progress that had been made to date.