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VOL. 129 | NO. 172 | Thursday, September 04, 2014

Storytellers Needed

Memphis International works on new image

By Amos Maki

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Memphis International Airport, in the midst of reinventing itself as an origin-and-destination airport, is looking for some help telling its story.

In the midst of reinventing itself as an origin-and-destination airport, Memphis International Airport is seeking help from public relations and marketing firms to help tell its story. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority is seeking a marketing and public relations firm to help get the word out about the transformation.

The Airport Authority issued a Request for Qualifications for public relations and marketing firms Aug. 19, and interest has been high. Representatives from more than two dozen firms attended a pre-bid conference Aug. 26.

Airport Authority officials say they’re not only transforming the airport’s operations and physical layout in the wake of major Delta Airlines service reductions, they are trying to take a shine to the airport’s public image, which had suffered because of high airfares and then a dramatic reduction in service following Delta’s downsizing.

“I think part of the airport leadership’s goals was not only to reinvent the airport from an operations standpoint but from a public interaction standpoint,” said Glen Thomas, public information officer for the Airport Authority. “This is part of that evolution.”

The Airport Authority is searching for a firm to assist with messaging, increasing public awareness, redesigning its website and expanding social media campaigns.

“We’re really looking for a diverse skill set amongst this group of firms that will be bidding for the project,” said Thomas.

Bids are due Wednesday, Sept. 10, and the Airport Authority’s board is scheduled to vote on the project Sept. 18. The anticipated commencement date for the contract is Oct. 1.

As a major cog in the Memphis region’s economic development engine – a 2012 University of Memphis study said the airport has an annual economic impact of $23.3 billion and affects one in four jobs locally – Memphis International for years enjoyed a sterling public image.

But the inflated prices that came with Delta’s hub began to take a toll, and Memphis International gained the unwanted reputation as one of the nation’s most expensive airports. Then came the Delta reductions, which slashed the number of destinations served from Memphis and dramatically increased public scrutiny of the airport and its operations.

Delta’s most recent announced reductions means the airline's number of nonstop destinations will go from 20 to 17 in November, and the airport’s number of nonstop destinations will go from 26 to 24. Before Delta began downsizing its Memphis hub several years ago, the airline offered nonstop flights to more than 50 destinations from Memphis.

The dehubbing by Delta of Memphis International Airport has meant changes throughout  the terminal.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

But the Delta reductions have opened the door for other airlines, such as Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines-US Airways and United Airlines to begin new service or ramp up existing operations. Since November, the airport has added 20 new flights outside of the Delta system.

Today, Memphis International has essentially completed its shift from an airport dominated by connecting flights from Delta’s hub to one focused on generating origin-and-destination traffic. Currently, around 98 percent of the airport’s enplanements originate in Memphis, a dramatic shift from around 30 percent at the height of Delta’s hub operation.

The airport is embarking on a multi-year plan to consolidate airline, food, beverage and retail concessions into the B Concourse. The project will also add moving walkways, wider corridors, larger boarding areas, higher ceilings and improved natural lighting.

Airport Authority leadership decided communicating the evolving nature of the airport to the public was a top priority and has taken steps, including hiring a public information officer, making operations and planning more transparent and creating social media accounts, to provide more interaction with the airport.

“I think our leadership saw a need to engage with the public, to have a voice and disseminate honest and accurate information,” said Thomas. “It was important to show people there was a post-hub vision for the airport. We wanted the public to know what we’re doing and why were doing it.”

For more information on the project, including the RFQ and a list of people who attended the pre-bid conference, visit mscaa.com/business/procurement.

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