Section 3 - U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission Outreach Summary
Congress saw December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright
brothers' first powered flight, as an opportunity to educate the public
about the Wright brothers' achievements and to use the story to inspire
the next generation of innovators and inventors. In 1999, it created
the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission to lead a national campaign.
Carter Ryley Thomas Public Relations and Marketing was selected through
a competitive Request for Procurement process to lead the outreach
campaign, which was based on media relations, partnerships and special
In reporting the outcome of the centennial of flight outreach efforts,
it is important to note that the success of the campaign can be directly
correlated to the enormous amount of cooperation among the U.S.
Centennial of Flight Commission and its Partners. The celebration was a
success largely because everyone worked together. These results could
not have been achieved through the work of any one organization.
Instead, it was the combined effort and tremendous dedication of
Centennial Partners as well as various communities and organizations
across the country and around the world that labored together to share
the story of the Wright brothers.
In the research phase of the campaign, the U.S. Centennial of Flight
Commission sponsored a Yanklovich Partners national phone survey in
November 1999. The results of this survey showed that many people knew
of the Wright brothers, but 80 percent of Americans were unaware of the
upcoming anniversary. In addition, one hundred reporters were
interviewed, revealing little to no awareness of the anniversary among
national media. And, interviews with aerospace industry leaders
indicated no major initiative to do anything to commemorate the
anniversary. Qualitative research revealed that no event was planned
for a major market and that there was a lack of teamwork among various
organizations planning celebration events. Secondary research into past
media coverage indicated that similar commemorations of historic events
such as Pearl Harbor Day received wide-spread coverage, but
anniversaries of inventions did not.
The U.S. Centennial of Flight Commissioners approved a strategic plan
that shifted away from pure media relations and allocated more budget
into coalition building and creating major market events. The U.S.
Centennial of Flight Commission decided it would not sponsor individual
events, but rather coordinate the national commemoration through
communication with the public and the media through the Web site and a
proactive media relations campaign. The first job was to re-energize the
centennial team by showing what was possible. Existing regional events
had to be complemented by major market celebrations that would reach the
masses and build credibility, and they would have to be funded by other
entities. The major market media needed a "wake up" call, and the U.S.
Centennial of Flight Commission needed to find a way to keep them
interested the entire year. Budget did not exist to buy a spokesperson,
but the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission team knew celebrities would
capture the attention of national television. Creating an educational
legacy for the campaign depended on convincing national educational
material distributors to get involved. The goal was to build an
efficient awareness campaign based on partnerships, special events and
media relations that was spread over a 12-month period versus a single
The U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission outreach campaign included five main objectives:
- Create centennial events in at least two major markets to strengthen the national campaign.
- Obtain 100 major print and/or video news stories in the top national and international media outlets.
- Expose at least 10 million students to an educational story of flight.
- Ensure that Centennial Partner events meet their combined attendance goal of 14.7 million.
- Direct 50,000 unique visitors per month to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission Web site.
A "trickle down" strategy was used to feed information to entities in
categories that had the broadest reach: top 100 national media outlets,
education/youth media, centennial event organizers, industry association
leaders and government agency leaders (NASA, FAA, U.S. Air Force,
National Park Service).
In order to meet the above mentioned objectives, the U.S. Centennial of
Flight Commission created the following strategies:
- Create and lead a national coalition of Partners that extends the reach of the celebration with minimal investment.
- Coordinate a national awareness campaign that leverages Partners and generates major stories regarding the anniversary and events in the top 100 national and international media outlets.
- Educate. Convince the largest K-12 educational media outlets to create or promote existing science/history programs and materials celebrating the anniversary of flight.
Create and Lead
- Major Market Events: Created and recruited Centennial Partners to develop centennial events in major markets:
- A national kick off was held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., on December 17, 2002. John Travolta, Sen. John Glenn, Dr. Neil Armstrong, the Tuskegee Airmen, Dr. Shannon Lucid and other public figures and aviation and aerospace icons participated, garnering national media coverage and setting the stage for the rest of the year. The ceremony, which celebrated the human qualities of flight, such as courage, innovation and determination, honored not only those present, but also the thousands of men and women throughout history who have made an impact on aviation.
- A three-week event at Rockefeller Center in New York in August. Rockefeller Center held the event, which included a partnership with NBC's The Today Show and appearances by Dr. Neil Armstrong and Patti LaBelle, among others. NASA, FAA and the U.S. Air Force were exhibitors.
- Widespread support boosted centennial awareness at events such as the Rose Bowl, the Los Angeles County Fair, the Chicago Centennial of Flight celebration, and EAA's AirVenture near Milwaukee, Wis. All events delivered strong regional messages.
- Centennial Partners: To position the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission as the unifying national body, the Centennial Partnership program was created. The program gained participation from NASA, the U.S. Air Force, Rockefeller Center, FAA, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Inventing Flight, Festival of Flight, the First Flight Centennial Commission, the First Flight Centennial Foundation, AIAA, Aviation Week, The National Air Tours, Space Day Foundation and EAA.
- Spokespersons: Dr. Neil Armstrong and John Travolta participated in various aspects of the campaign for free. Other well-known public figures also became involved including Harrison Ford, Sen. John Glenn, Chuck Yeager and NASCAR's Jeff Gordon.
- The President: The U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission and its Partners successfully organized presidential appearances in Ohio and North Carolina.
- Media Pool: Developed long-term relationships with top media outlets early in the campaign to whom all Centennial Partners could pitch. Unique packages were developed for the wires and network feeds.
- The Story Line-up: The media strategy pushed "national event" stories that created the impression of a strong national campaign.
- Centennial Video: Created history of flight video that was shown in museums and airports.
- National Education Media Push: Newspapers in Education, Channel One, Time for Kids and McGraw Hill, among others, produced and distributed centennial-themed materials and promoted the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission Web site.
- Grassroots Education Push: Promoted learning programs created by the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, NASA and others directly to teachers through user and news groups, Web sites, list serves and associations. This tactic also included working with the Aerospace Industries Association to promote a national rocketry challenge that attracted high school students from 50 states.
- Web Site Enhancements: Led improvements to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission's Web site that attracted more teachers and students. Enhancements were promoted through media relations and grassroots communications. This included: 1) a First Flight Weather Contest where students learned about weather and aviation on the Web site and submitted a "forecast" for December 17, 2003, and 2) educational Web games that were delivered through an e-mail campaign.
- Major market success. Met objective by creating two catalytic events, one in Washington, D.C. and one in New York City.
- Rockefeller Center generated 58 million impressions (number of people who were exposed to information), and the kick off in Washington, D.C., generated 73.8 million impressions.
- Significant media coverage. From December 2002 to December 2003, centennial stories that included key messages had a reach of 1.4 billion. (This excludes more than 1,000 local broadcast and print hits.)
- More than 350 articles ran in the top 100 print publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and USA Today. More than 110 segments ran on national networks including NBC, CBS, ABC and CNN. This represents a 250 percent increase over the objective.
- Prior to December 2003, the campaign achieved a reach of more than 760 million.
- A conservative estimate for total publicity value for the yearlong celebration equaled $77.5 million.
- Student involvement. More than 12 million children were exposed to the inspiring story of flight.
- This represents a 20 percent increase over the objective.
- The Mini Page ran five features in more than 500 papers. A Time for Kids flight issue reached 4.2 million children and a Channel One Wright Flyer segment reached 8 million children.
- Educational toolkits developed by NASA and the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission were delivered to more than 140,000 educators.
- With the help of NASA and the U.S. Air Force, educational magazines were placed in more than 500,000 airline seatbacks.
- The weather contest attracted entries from 25,000 students and was covered by The Weather Channel.
- Attendance took off. More than 22.2 million people attended the 14 Centennial Partner events. This figure does not include the millions of people who attended grassroots community events across the country.
- U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission Partners exceeded combined attendance objectives by 51 percent. (Again, this number does not include hundreds of non-partner events that occurred across the country in 2003.)
- The Rockefeller Center Centennial exhibit attracted more than 2.8 million visitors and immediately increased national credibility for the campaign among both reporters and the general public.
- Examples of economic impact received from Centennial Partners include: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum experienced a 31 percent increase in attendance, while other museums in Washington, D.C., experienced a drop. They also experienced a 3 percent increase in gift shop revenue and an 11 percent increase in IMAX ticket sales. The Outer Banks increased December tourism revenue by $7.2 million.
- Visits to the Web with longer stays. Unique visitors to the educational Web site increased from 7,000 per month in January 2002, to 256,000 in December 2003. (Average stay time of 10 minutes.) Individual hits increased from 145,000 a month to 3.66 million a month.
- In 2003, U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission received more than 36,000 e-mails ranging from material requests to historical inquiries.