Throwing out the rulebook: WestJet's Greg Plata on the ‘Real Christmas Miracle’

By Sandy Marshall

At the CMA's Content Marketing Show on June 25, WestJet Airlines’ Team Lead, Sponsorship, Greg Plata, will join the stage with studio m Executive Producer Mike Mills to discuss their sensational 2013 project focusing on real-time giving for WestJet customers.  I sat down with Greg to discuss the project, the parallel discovery of hours of "additional" content, and his advice for frequent travelers.

The WestJet Christmas Miracle is touting over 36 million hits and counting, and customers got the items on their "wish lists."  The project was a hit in a number of ways -- what's your leading indicator of success?

WestJet volunteers joined the effort alongside three airports and Santa himself -- and the Christmas miracle happened for over 250 guests on two Calgary-bound flights.  Internally, our goals of the project surrounded social media trending, earned media through traditional PR elements and employee engagement.  We plan for the effect, not the results: our ideas have to be challenging, simple in their vision, and complex in their execution.  Our people are our brand, and I think that's why the project was so compelling to so many people.
Why did the project work so well?

175 WestJet employees volunteered their time, and their level of engagement is second to none.  That, along with a deep foundation of trust and collaboration with studio m, made the project a real success.
You'll be presenting alongside Mike Mills, Executive Producer of studio m.  Tell us about how you collaborated on this project.

Mike and I connected in 2012 while we were launching our new service to La Guardia Airport in New York, and they delivered a couple of compelling and successful projects including the 2012 Christmas flash mob.  The flash mob had a solid media pick-up in Canada, and we wanted to increase the numbers -- so in early 2013, we began kicking around some concepts and brainstorming what would become the WestJet Christmas Miracle.

You called on over 175 WestJet volunteers and used 19 hidden cameras.  Can you share a story or two of unexpected things that took place?

Simply put: Everything.  The requests were amazing -- people asking for world peace, curing cancer, fixing the hunger strike, having good health for family and friends, that kind of thing.  We even had a few requests for marriage proposals.  Of course the socks and underwear guy was a surprise -- and during the execution, we used every second when it came to finding the gifts, wrapping everything, etc. At the end of the day, we had to adhere to security procedures and customs regulations in airports, and the logistics behind the wrapping, boxes, names, gift cards, specific contents, etc. was very complex in terms of logistics.
The outtakes reel on YouTube is a lot of fun.  How did you select the content?

We recorded almost 38 hours of content, and for the outtakes reel, we wanted to keep the piece around five minutes.  Santa was actually our own Corey Evans, a WestJetter himself.  We wanted to tell an emotional story, so the additional content was really around the emotional element of people getting exactly what they wanted for Christmas.
What's in store for Christmas 2014?

Good question.  We'll see.  We're kicking off the planning later this month.  For this year, we told each other we'd stay away from evening thinking about Christmas for the first few months. One thing's for sure, it will be even more challenging from an executional standpoint, which will make it a lot of fun.
You're always on the go.  Any advice for frequent travelers?

Good question.  Get your Nexus card -- it's worth it.  Definitely check-in 24 hours before boarding.  I will say that Plus Seating does have its advantages.  Above all, enjoy your travels.  Don't make it stressful.  One more thing...get to the airport on time, because, trust me... we'll leave on time.
Join Greg Plata and Mike Mills at the CMA Content Marketing Show on June 25 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto as they present "Throwing out the Rulebook: The WestJet Christmas Miracle." Register now.

About Greg:
As Team Lead, Sponsorship at WestJet, Greg Plata oversees WestJet's national sponsorship portfolio, and leads the evolution of the airline's Experiential Marketing efforts. This includes growing WestJet's Fun 'n Festival program to 50+ festivals across the country, and introducing the partnership with Canada's Toronto Blue Jays to the WestJet family. On the Experiential side, Greg has led several projects including the WestJet Christmas Miracle pt. I & II, NYCASAP and Fly Away.

Sandy Marshall is Vice-President at Second City Communications and Co-Chair of the 2014 Content Marketing Show.

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Tags: Content Marketing