Edwards PA captures Air Force award for Flight Test Nation 2009

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The 95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs team took Flight Test Nation to new heights by capturing the 2009 Air Force Integrated Communication Excellence Award for branding and marketing Edwards' Oct. 17 air show and open house that drew more than 225,000 attendees.

The Air Force recognized Edwards Public Affairs for effectively implementing public affairs strategies and tactics in a creative and integrated multi-lingual campaign that more than tripled attendance from the Air Force Flight Test Center's previous two-day event.

According to Mike Strickler, PA director, winning the Integrated Communication Excellence award is all about vision, leadership and teamwork.

"To win an award like this you must have a vision going in, and then work hard to manage your time and resources to achieve synchronous effects from the strategic through the tactical levels of employment," he said. "In the case of Flight Test Nation, we established a brand that spoke to both Edwards' and the Antelope Valley's reputation as the premiere flight test community; a simple concept that needed only a strong strategic communications plan and great people to execute it."

According to the award citation, the Flight Test Nation campaign marked several firsts for Edwards AFB: the first time Edwards AFB developed a brand for an event, used new media to increase reach and impact, conducted a marketing plan in English and Spanish to accommodate the communities around the base, and developed a targeted information program that reached from Bakersfield into the San Diego area.

"We enhanced our reach by coupling our broadcast and social media, multimedia, and graphics team's products with GRT Productions, a local media company with great working relations with southern California media markets," said Mr. Strickler, "and their ability to turn our budget into more than $300,000 worth of paid radio, television, print and internet advertising had a huge impact on getting people to Edwards."

"The impact was so large that, by 9 a.m. air show morning, traffic on Highway 14 stretched more than five miles south, and nearly 20 miles from the base's west gate," he said. "We actually opened the gates 40 minutes early and then worked arduously to get the thousands of vehicles parked so attendees could enjoy the show.  It was an amazing sight," said Mr. Strickler.

Among the strategies employed by PA was a pre-show media day that brought more than 200 national and international media agencies to Edwards. According to John Haire, PA's chief of Current Operations, Edwards' close ties with the media outlets made all the difference.

"Mobilizing voluntary and responsive media support is not as daunting a task as it may seem," said Mr. Haire. "It's a relatively simple formula of having a great product to sell, a super team to sell it, and a consistent track record as one of the most aggressive media support programs in the Air Force.  Mostly, it's about treating people the way you would like to be treated," he said.

Public Affairs' preparations for the air show began months earlier with the PA team crafting television, radio and web spots, along with a full line of posters, flyers and branded artwork, which was proliferated throughout targeted markets in central and southern California. The PA Graphic Arts division also developed and distributed thousands of direct mailers that reached into the areas just beyond, spreading the word to a much larger audience.

The award citation also recognizes Rohmann Services Inc., PA's contract multimedia division, for not only partnering in product development and providing excellent "game day" coverage of the event, but also providing dynamic support of a public discussion of Edwards' aviation history featuring retired Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager and retired Maj. Gen. Joe Engle, as moderated by former Good Morning America host David Hartman.

According to Mr. Strickler, community involvement also played a vital role in the air show's success.

"Even with all of the planning and internal strategies in place and working, the local communities really kicked up the excitement by placing our posters and flyers in their store windows, and soliciting support from their local governments. In all, we received 16 proclamations from city and county governments naming Oct. 17 as 'Flight Test Nation Day' across the Antelope Valley."

Maj. Gen. David J. Eichhorn, AFFTC commander, said the award culminates and recognizes a great team effort to bring the public and Edwards in close proximity during one fun-filled extravaganza.

"I couldn't be more proud of my Public Affairs team and the men and women of our Flight Test Nation that achieved this historic event," he said. "We had perfect weather, great leadership, historical figures, community support, amazing aircraft and venues, and a world-class PA team that ensured the world knew about it."

"As the commander, I can't ask for much more than that," said General Eichhorn.

The Oct. 17 event drew the largest air show crowd in Edwards' history, and the second largest for an Edwards' event, surpassed only by NASA-Dryden's recovery of STS-26, the Space Shuttle's return to flight mission that landed at Edwards Oct 3, 1998, and drew nearly 500,000 attendees.