Cockpit laser attack air ambulance safety campaign
About the campaign
Wales Air Ambulance (WAA) is a charity that operates the UK’s largest air ambulance service. Outwrite provides media relations including on-call holiday cover, and issue & crisis management support to its small in-house PR and comms team.
Outwrite received a phone call from the chief executive on Monday 7 November 2016. A commercial-strength laser beam had been shone into the cockpit of an airborne helicopter on a mission over the city of Swansea during the evening of Saturday, 5 November, blinding the on-board doctor.
Outwrite was briefed to carry out immediate media relations, using this incident as a case study to communicate a safety message: that shining lasers into aircraft cockpits could cause a crash and fatalities.
The WAA head of communications was on holiday.
The Outwrite press team mobilised immediately. Our objectives were:
- Achieve coverage in Welsh media, to support WAA’s ongoing awareness raising among supporters in the general public
- Target national UK media, as this was a UK-wide safety issue
- To gain coverage as quickly as possible, as this was a dateable story, with a short lifespan
Objectives and planning
The same day, we interviewed the pilot who was the key eyewitness. The doctor who had been blinded did not want to take part in media activity.
We explained to the pilot we had two options:
- Put out the story with quotes anonymously from “the pilot”, which we judged would gain regional coverage, but probably not national coverage
- Quote and name him in our press statements, and put him up for interview. If so, we would require him to be available, immediately, and over the next few days
We made it clear that it was his choice. He agreed to give interviews.
We also carried out as much desktop research as time allowed, into previous incidents, and trade body positions on laser attacks, to gain contextual background for the content of our release and our approach to positioning our incident, to gain UK-wide coverage.
This would strengthen our-selling in conversations with journalists and producers: we were providing a ready-made story, with background and national context.
Providing a written-up story plus interview opportunity dates up-front, helped persuade journalists to decide immediately to use the story.
Numbers and figures
Pieces of coverage
Media coverage with key messages
Live broadcasts on Sky News, BBC Wales News and ITV Wales News
Our managing director outlined our plan to the WAA chief executive, who immediately gave us permission to go ahead.
We confirmed to the pilot we were going ahead and obtained his personal contact details to contact him when off-duty.
We notified airbase operations staff media may visit at short notice; we would facilitate the visits, including proofs of insurance and risk assessments.
We researched, conducted interviews, drafted and verified the release.
We approached contacts to sell-in the story, chased in, facilitated phone interviews for bespoke quotes.
We offered and set up individual visits to the air base in Llanelli.
We dispatched an Outwrite team member to the air base, to be in situ if/as requests to attend same-day or set up immediate down-the-line interviews came in.
During that day, he facilitated two live TV interviews and one pre-record, as well as two live radio interviews and one pre-record.
We also anticipated and prepared reactive responses in case of incoming requests to interview the doctor.
In the event, many outlets asked to interview him. We responded saying:
- His blindness was turning out to be temporary (his vision returned and he returned to work after a few days)
- He had chosen not to speak to the media, so we had lined up the pilot as an eye-witness instead
Every media outlet we approached carried the story. They included:
Sky News: live air base interview with pilot & cockpit video
BBC Wales: breakfast, Wales Today, Wales Tonight, 10.35pm bulletin;
Good Morning Wales; Good Evening Wales; hourly news bulletins
Radio Cymru – news bulletins
ITV Wales: live link to air base for pilot interview for 6pm news
Print and online
Mailonline; Mirror online; BBC; ITV
Regional print and online including South Wales Evening Post (front page) and Western Mail, all with the video clip or link to it
Total pieces of coverage: 41.
All pieces referenced and provided links to the cockpit video.
All of the objectives were exceeded.
The priority key message: that the safety of a WAA air ambulance had been potentially fatally compromised, was carried prominently in every piece of coverage.
A selection of WAA standard key messages was used in all of the Welsh media articles, enhancing awareness among its target donors among the general public in Wales.
We had decided at the outset to inform the police service about our planned activity, and offer co-ordinate timing of our press release with theirs, to maximise publicity.
We included in our release an appeal for witnesses and police contacts. This was carried within 85 per cent of the media coverage we generated.
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