Heli Expo trade show a hit

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Bell Helicopter Textron, a helicopter manufacturer, wanted to introduce a new aircraft, the Bell 417, with a splash at last year's Heli Expo, a big trade show produced by Helicopter Association International that attracts 30,000 people.

"Heli Expo is the helicopter show in the world for the year," said Mike Cox, VP-communications for Bell Helicopter. "All your competition is there as well, and they are all trying to outdo you."

Bell also was competing with itself. The year before, it introduced a completely new aircraft at the same trade show and it was such a success that the benchmark was set high.

"[We] wanted to match or surpass the success we had with the show the year before," Cox said. "We were concerned that this would be a big `so what.' "

The manufacturer also wanted to target the right audience: CEOs, helicopter owners and helicopter operators, the final decision-makers with the authority to purchase aircraft, paying particular attention to high-value existing customers.

Immersing these target customers in the Bell brand at all touch points, with a show-stopping event to unveil the helicopter, was the strategy behind an event marketing plan created by Bell, its event marketing partner, Exhibitgroup/Giltspur, and its Irving, Texas-based agency, TM Advertising.

Campaign elements included preshow direct mail and print ads, and items distributed to hotel guests at the show. Bell did its own PR in-house.

John Jastrem, president-CEO of Exhibitgroup/Giltspur, said Bell, the ad agency and his company worked closely together throughout the process.

"Rather than just trying to execute with limited understanding of the strategy our team went in and sat down and consulted with the client and its ad agency on the front end of the project," he said.

Bell gave Exhibitgroup access to its Bell's CRM system, and Exhibitgroup was able to tie into that system to help Bell profile the right targets in its database.

"That's actually fairly unusual," said Tom Merrill, Exhibitgroup VP-aerospace and defense.

Print advertising began 60 days before the show with teaser messages.

"Look up. See Bell" was the tagline.

Thirty days before the show, invitations were sent by direct mail to a targeted list of 1,800 customers and prospects, inviting them to Bell's CEO reception and its unveiling event in the exhibit hall.

All campaign materials maintained the "Look up. See Bell" theme and were designed to prompt the question "What will I see when I look up?"

Attendees received a room key card with Bell messaging printed on it at check-in. Additional room drops occurred during the show and included a branded neck pillow, sunglasses and Do Not Disturb signs.

The actual event included a series of videos, a Cirque Productions aerial act and a Japanese taiko drum ensemble accompanied by electric guitar and violin, special lighting, fog and the fabric-shrouded helicopter.

CEO Mike Redenbaugh made remarks as the program built to a crescendo. With music playing and the aerialists performing, Bell unveiled the helicopter.

Attendance—1,500—far exceeded expectations.

Media coverage was favorable, with stories in the show daily and aviation trades. Perhaps most important for Bell, though, sales exceeded goals. The company walked away with 100 orders for the new helicopter the day the show ended.

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