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In 2016, Head of Global Charitable Initiatives, Corporate Giving, Cause Marketing, and Social Impact Griffin Gonzalez and her team at American Airlines launched their partnership with Stand Up To Cancer.

As part of that partnership, they work every year to execute an annual cause marketing campaign with the organization. And, this past year, Griffin’s team in conjunction with the Marketing team executed a campaign that resulted in their highest engagement yet.

Griffin said they knew their 2019 campaign would be different, because they wanted to target a broader audience and focus on driving engagement in addition to donations.

According to Griffin, their previous cause marketing campaigns had historically targeted their AAdvantage customers and provided that customer base the opportunity to receive AAdvantage miles for every dollar donated.

“For this campaign, we partnered with Marketing and an outside agency to create a campaign that we knew would be different than previous campaign because our focus was intentionally around creating something that was authentic, relatable, and genuine and would still drive donations in a unique way,” she said. “Anyone who wanted to participate could make a $25 donation and honor a loved one by putting their name on our official Stand Up to Cancer plane. This campaign was less transactional and gave people a meaning behind their donation.”

And, Griffin said, the timing was perfect because they had just announced their corporate “why” — ‘To care for people on life’s journey’ — before announcing this campaign.

“Our corporate ‘why’ is the purpose behind everything we do at American, in community relations, and especially in this campaign,” she said. “What better way to show that we care for people on life’s journey than allowing them to be honored or honor a loved one on a plane?”

The campaign itself took a little over a year to put together.

She and her counterpart on American Airlines’ marketing team, Kristen Stoutenburgh, got together to brainstorm the campaign and how they were going to top their previous campaign, which featured a partnership with Marvel.

Their primary goals were to create awareness, drive engagement, and raise funds for cancer research — while being as authentic, genuine, and as relatable as possible.

“We were discussing the idea of a collage or montage format,” said Griffin. “Then, Kristen suggested a flying billboard, and from there the idea took off. We gave it to our agency and they brought it to life.”

During that time, Griffin had to work closely with internal partners to make sure everything was in order for the launch.

Their primary internal partnerships were with their marketing, privacy and legal teams, but she said nearly every department touched this campaign in some way.

“Privacy was a big concern with people’s names because you can go to the website and find where any name is located on the plane,” she said.

“We also wanted to be thoughtful about the fact that someone could donate in your honor with or without your permission and that person may not necessarily want their cancer journey to be publicly known. We designed the website to allow you to see the exact location of the name a person donated in honor of, but scrolling or enlarging is not an option.”

Then, to roll out the campaign, they relied on several different channels to connect with their large audience.

“Our team members are the most important aspect of everything that we do,” Griffin said. “We started with a significant internal communications plan and announced the campaign to all our team members so they were aware and could participate.”

Through their partnership with Stand Up To Cancer, Griffin said they were able to secure Tim McGraw to be a part of this campaign. They recorded a commercial with him, which they pushed out through TV and digital and social channels.

In total, the campaign received over 22,000 name submissions and raised more than $1.1 million.

“It really spoke to our team members and our customers,” said Griffin. “We painted the plane and then wrapped it with all 22,000+ names. Now it’s flying all across the United States.”

Griffin also said it was the most engaging campaign they’ve ever done, resulting in 17,000 donors, almost a billion media impressions and an increase of revenue in Q3.

Once they had the names all on the plane, Griffin Gonzalez and her team planned a follow up trip to continue getting the word out.

“We flew 50 survivors plus a guest on the plane for an all-inclusive experience to Orlando with Universal Studios,” she said. “The really special part of this trip was that we had the opportunity to allow 20 team members who were also survivors participate in this trip.”

For that trip, they partnered directly with Hyatt and Universal, who provided the hotel rooms and passes for the group.

According to Griffin Gonzalez, it was crucial for them to involve team members throughout American Airlines at every stage of this process.

“Team members are the most important aspect of anything that we do within community relations because when they’re engaged and have pride in their company, it will translate into better business,” she said. “This campaign allowed us to engage our team members and customers while showcasing our products at the same time.”

The plane will continue flying for the next 18 months, with Griffin and her team continuing to support it while growing their partnership with Stand Up To Cancer.

“We are working with our internal partners to find ways in the next two years to host promotions around the country for people to see the plane up close and personal,” she said. “We are committed to Stand Up to Cancer and their work with scientists doing cancer research.”

“Our partnership will continue to evolve and people can expect to see us featured in this year’s telecast in August, and in collaborations with our corporate partners on a variety of promotional opportunities where we’re able to push the message while promoting both entities involved,” she said.

When launching a successful cause marketing campaigns, Griffin said her biggest piece of advice is to make it authentic and relatable.

“Create something that’s engaging and meaningful not only to your team members, but to your customers,” she said. “Try to do more than making it strictly transactional.”

She also emphasized the importance of identifying what makes sense for your CSR strategy and your company early on.

“Find ways to identify how you can engage both internally and externally. Your team members are going to be your best assets,” she said. “Most importantly, figure out how you can collaborate with multiple departments across your company because it creates a sense of buy-in and builds camaraderie within the company.”

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