Flybe Takes Off - a Financial and Investor Relations campaign for Flybe

Introduction

Undeterred by the Eurozone crisis, market turbulence, air-based terrorist alerts, volcanic ash clouds and some of the most disruptive winter storms seen for years, College Hill swung into action behind Europe’s largest regional airline, Flybe, in the preparations of its long-heralded IPO.

Such a counter-intuitive announcement was always going to be difficult to handle, but key messages regarding the likely size of the float, planned use of the proceeds and corporate ambitions were widely reported across all sections of the media, helping pave the way for one of the largest and most successful UK IPOs of 2010.

The Highlights

  • Successfully reinforced Flybe’s position as Europe’s leading regional airline with a clear, positive differentiation from other low cost airline competitors
  • Achieved significant share of voice where it mattered in industry, City and the financial, business and trade media
  • Developed a well informed Flybe “fan club” among the leading corporate and business media resulting in consistent positive news and media coverage throughout the year
  • Prepared the groundwork for Flybe’s IPO with the key airline analysts and financial media, culminating in a successful £215 million flotation on the London Stock Exchange
  • Since then, proactively managed Flybe’s reputation against a difficult economic backdrop, resulting in a larger analyst following and stable and supportive shareholder base
  • Successful media and investor relations programme supporting Flybe’s 1st major, strategic deal post IPO: the JV with Finnair to acquire FCA, one of the Nordic area’s largest regional airlines


Background

Formed as Jersey European Airways in 1979, the company was taken over by the Walker Steel Group in 1983. It merged with Walker Steel’s charter airline, Spacegrand, in 1985. In 1991, they secured their first London route from London Gatwick to Guernsey, before adding routes between London Gatwick, Belfast City, the Channel Islands, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Glasgow airports.

In 2002, the company was rebranded Flybe and in 2005 it signed a landmark deal with Bombardier Aerospace for 20 Q400 aircraft and became the global launch customer for the Embraer 195, with an order for 26 jets. In 2006, Flybe acquired BA Connect from British Airways to become Europe's largest regional airline.

In 2007, Flybe launched the world’s first Eco labelling scheme for the airline industry and the UK’s first low cost customer loyalty scheme, ‘Rewards4all’. October 2008 saw Flybe announce a landmark franchise agreement with Loganair, to fly Loganair services in Flybe colours and introduced a new 3-a-day Aberdeen to London Gatwick service after BA’s withdrawal from that route. In 2009, Flybe was given the prestigious Air Transport World Regional Airline of the Year 2009 award and announced plans for a new industry leading Training Academy to be built.

2010 and The Brief

Appointed in 2004, College Hill saw a significant change to its brief in 2010. Fybe’s ambitious growth strategy was highly successful. Now the decision to IPO raised the bar: to further enhance the airline’s profile and gain a greater "share of voice" at a time when Ryanair and EasyJet were already well-established as market leaders; and also to highlight Flybe's unique business model from that of its higher profile competitors.

Additionally, Flybe announced an extensive code-share agreement with Air France; signed a multi-billion dollar deal with Embraer for up to 140 aircraft to support its planned European growth; and announced its intention to list on the London Stock Exchange

Strategy

A multi-faceted dual corporate and business communications programme, with the key focus on building media, business and City relationships and establishing the platform from which to leverage Flybe’s publicity around company news and thereby creating a positive and receptive environment for the IPO launch.

Our Activities

  • A profile raising programme for senior management, particularly Jim French, Chairman and CEO.
  • Building a “fan base” of the leading equity analysts who follow airlines, by arranging and running regular results briefings to complement the media campaign through analyst roadshows and briefings.
  • Optimised media publicity opportunities around Flybe’s business growth eg the acquisition of BA Connect from British Airways; $billion plane orders; and significant code-share agreements with established national carriers.
  • Seized the opportunity for Jim French to become the main spokesperson for the airline industry during the volcanic ash cloud crisis in 2010.
  • Proactively managed Flybe’s corporate reputation after the IPO against the backdrop of worsening economic conditions and disputes with a pilots union which affected the whole industry.

Results

  • Jim French is now regarded as a leading and influential industry commentator in the media.
  • Extensive media coverage in The Financial Times, The Times, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Sun, City AM and London Evening Standard, Daily Mail – and the dailies’ weekend counterparts; Sky, BBC and IT; Bloomberg, Reuters and Press Association; What Investment, Air and Business Travel News, The First Post, Aviation Week and Travel Trade Gazette – around the transformational acquisition of BA Connect, its landmark plane orders with Bombardier and Embraer, the franchise deal with Loganair and its highly significant codeshare agreement with Air France.
  • Flybe is widely acknowledged “as Europe’s largest regional airline” operating from 71 airports with 207 routes serving 13 countries by both corporate and business media.
  • The key City audience fully understands the Flybe business model that distinguishes it from its peer group and which gives the company a distinct competitive advantage.
  • A successful flotation on the London Stock Exchange, raising £60.3 m and valuing the company at £215m – one of the few successful UK IPOs of 2010, and one of the largest.
  • Flybe has continued to build up its City fan base and analyst following since flotation and now has a loyal and stable shareholder based and analyst following.
     

Evaluation

On 15 December 2010, despite the backdrop of continued stock market volatility, Flybe completed its much anticipated and highly successful flotation on the London Stock Exchange. This was the last significant IPO of 2010 and the shares, which were 2.5 times over-subscribed, debuted at 295p per share (giving Flybe an initial market capitalisation on £215 million). Since then, Flybe has continued to build a loyal and stable following among investors and City analysts.

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