Short List
Product/ServiceFLIGHT ROUTE
Category B12. Launch / Re-launch
Name Company Position
Stuart Lambert Weber Shandwick Strategy and Creative Director
Victoria Tomlin Weber Shandwick Account Director
Lucy Rex Weber Shandwick Senior Account Manager
Lauren Patterson Weber Shandwick Social copywriter
Liam Simpson Weber Shandwick Senior Producer
Chantelle Hole Weber Shandwick Senior Account Executive
Charlotte Powell Weber Shandwick Assistant Account Executive
Bill Ranatunga Weber Shandwick Account Director
Emma Thompson Weber Shandwick Managing Director

The Campaign

The idea was to create and visualise a new culture, called “ManFran”: a memorable, headline-friendly expression not just of a new flight route but of an economic and cultural connection between two transatlantic cities. And a story that couldn’t be told without mentioning Virgin Atlantic’s role in it. “ManFran”, we hypothesised, would be the new “NY-Lon” – the trend that led to thousands of people “supercommuting” between New York and London a decade ago. ManFran would allow us an exciting degree of topical territory to creatively explore. Would it create a new trade link between the UK and the US? What impact would closer connections have on local economies and culture? Might a blended fashion or cuisine emerge? The idea enabled us to join a far bigger debate, about Manchester’s (and Brexit Britain’s) future in a world where trade links and technology are crucial to the national conversation.


We pitched our story, evidence and expert predictions to key media titles, the Manchester Evening News and BBC North West, weeks in advance. We invited local influencers and businesses, from fashion designers to restaurants, into the process (unpaid). Their bespoke ‘ManFran’ mashups would be released on Twitter in a carefully synchronised sequence, creating the impression of a local conversation taking off – alerting the national media. We prepared digital assets: a split-screen short film that showed the two cities in juxtaposition, highlighting the similarities and a treasure hunt image in which we hid 20 things that the two cities shared, for people to find and share. We made sure that both cities’ tourist boards were ready to join in the fun online. On launch day we hosted a live Twitter Q&A with a San Franciscan, so that Mancunians could find out more about the city they were now connected to.

The story broke with multiple in-depth, positive news coverage in the Manchester Evening News and on the BBC, before hitting almost every local blog, magazine and radio station. By midday on launch day, #ManFran was trending organically on Twitter. Powerful business stakeholders took notice: Visit Britain and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership began using #ManFran and @virginatlantic on Twitter. UK trade minister Greg Hands asked to take a trade delegation to San Francisco on the inaugural flight, which Virgin Atlantic agreed to. This was retweeted by then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP. A major Manchester nightclub asked if Virgin cabin crew would attend their inaugural Man-Fran night, featuring the best new music from the two cities. Launch resutls: •1.6 million impressions on social media with 10,405 engagements •1.1k uses of #manfran on Twitter •Positive sentiment score of 9.8/10. •Editorial reach: 537m from 70 pieces of media coverage •CPM: £0.08 •Google Autocomplete offers “Virgin Atlantic” as the most popular organic search request when you start typing “Manchester San Francisco”. Over the four weeks leading up to the first flights with the trade mission on board, the story became part of a bigger conversation with national business news discussing the significance of Virgin’s ManFran flights at a time when Britain was debating its future trade arrangements. The campaign drove a higher-than-modelled spike in bookings, with zero advertising support. We did more than launch a new flight route: ManFran has become a real cultural and business phenomenon, forever ownable by Virgin Atlantic.

The Situation

We made Virgin Atlantic’s launch of the first direct flights between Manchester and San Francisco more than just a travel news item: we made it a genuine cultural conversation for earned media. Written about, talked about, shared online – and adopted by third parties. Our insight –that the two cities share a ‘northern’ identity and an intertwined digital future – led to the idea of ‘ManFran’, which we brought to life as a story packed with topical, newsworthy substance and cultural relevance. #ManFran trended on Twitter, reached an audience of millions, earned blanket media coverage and drove the desired bookings.

The Strategy

To impact bookings we needed to focus on the Manchester population, but also make the story a national one: 22 million people live within two hours of Manchester airport. The primary audience was entrepreneurs and tech investors who will benefit from closer links to San Francisco’s tech industry. This determined our target media and our approach. To substantiate our premise, we spoke to every expert we could. From academic experts on transatlantic links, to international estate agents and entrepreneurs on both sides of the Atlantic, we created a huge bank of evidence and predictions. We commissioned a survey of 2,000 Mancunians who told us they had more in common with San Franciscans than Londoners. The story needed to break in Manchester to feel authentically local, before taking off on social media and catching the attention of the national news, where it would hopefully become a bigger conversation.