Competing for Pilots – An Airline Crisis

According to the Federal Aviation Administration the number of pilots in the U.S. has decreased by 30%. With newer regulations forcing commercial pilots to retire at 65 along with some massive peaks and valleys for the industry over the last 15 years, pilots are becoming a luxury.

Having just been purchased by Apollo Global Management, Sun Country Airlines is dealing with the pilot shortage, a shift in corporate culture, and a shift in identity all at once. With new management Sun Country’s growth plans are aggressive and aspirational, but none of that is possible without pilots flying the planes.

What We Knew:

Sun Country Airlines wanted to establish themselves as an ideal destination for pilots who are looking for something different. Competing against larger airlines with deeper pockets, proven stability, and benefits Sun Country had to focus their efforts on other proof points. It was this point where Agency Squid was asked to identify and elevate the proof points, then help Sun Country reach a new pilot audience.

Our Approach:

We started with interviews focusing on Sun Country’s new management team, pilots at all stages in their careers, and a comprehensive competitive analysis to see what other airlines were saying. All this information pointed us to the crux of what Sun Country really was: a lifestyle brand at all points, consumer and professional.

Pilots had made the decision to fly for Sun Country largely due to intangibles. Although there were some pieces that other airlines couldn’t compete with, like 2 years to become a captain or being able to fly a Boeing 737-800, pilots consistently selected Sun Country for employment because of the work/life balance and destinations they flew to. This became an interesting piece of information considering the industry as a whole largely competes over the same sales points: pay, benefits, and retirement.

Our Solution:

We created a campaign that promoted work/life balance as its core called “Fly at the speed of life.™” Knowing Sun Country pilots hold that higher than anything else it made sense to use it as a proof point to attract other like-minded pilots and reinforce an existing culture within the airline.

“Fly at the speed of life™” was then paired with visuals of the Boeing 737-800 pilots are excited to fly. We merged lifestyle imagery with portions of the plane pilots can easily identity (ex. the wing, the tail, the engines). Merging lifestyle with the plane itself created a way for Sun Country to align their biggest assets, the plane itself and the work/life balance culture they support, together in one cohesive visual. These visuals were then created to fit different touch points during the recruiting phase, from event support to social media content, and everything in between.

Results:

Sun Country has rolled out the new messaging at the University of North Dakota and Minnesota State Mankato as the initial recruitment touch points. Over 200 students and instructors came out to engage with Sun Country resulting in all major publications in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to pick up the story for earned media placement upwards of 5MM impressions.

Here are just a few of the publications that picked up the coverage

(https://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/news/2018/10/18/sun-country-airlines-partners-with-minnesota-state.html)

(http://knoxradio.com/news/local/und-sun-country-enter-agreement-pilots)

Sun Country will continue to roll out the campaign at recruiting tradeshows and job fairs in the coming year to help support their growth goals.

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