by Emory Scott
The media feels a rush of excitement when covering a breaking story extending 24-hours a day for ten days. But when a media relations consultant gets involved in the same story “in the eye of the hurricane” — that’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that puts to the test one’s lifetime experiences.
When Kevin Uliassi attempted his round-the-world flight in a Rozier Balloon (right) which uses helium and propane to stay afloat, the eyes of the world were focused on the daily progress from the moment Uliassi launched from Rockford, Illinois. And informing the media of the launch, and keeping news feeds pouring out to the international press was R. Scott Lorenz, president of Westwind Communications and Director of Media Relations for the flight.
Lorenz was uniquely qualified as a hot air balloon pilot who has flown all over the world himself, including a flight over Niagara Falls and the Great Wall of China plus ballooning adventures in Japan, France, Austria and Spain. Lorenz also brought with him skills in crisis communications, driving the news cycle, and handling multiple tasks simultaneously.
A public relations and marketing specialist, Lorenz’s current and past client list includes TV’s Don Hervert, a.k.a. Mr. Wizard, The Windsor Laser Eye Institute, Oakland Athletic Club, former Miss America Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, Quest Software, Inc., SolidSpeed Networks Grocerystreet.com, and Trans Teq.
Uliassi had read an article about Scott’s hot air ballooning experiences in China and contacted him for assistance in gaining flight clearance permission from the Republic of China. During those discussions, Kevin learned about Lorenz’s experience in capturing the attention of the media on behalf of clients. Lorenz began by publicizing the campaign in order to raise financial sponsors but before long found himself at the heart of the communications center working with the flight team.
The Great Wall of China
For a round-the-world flight there is a window of opportunity from November to March when the jet stream, and other climatic conditions meet the necessary requirements to attempt to navigate the globe. The team was assembled and for three months was checking in every day, expecting to be told the countdown had begun and to head for Rockford. The best meteorologists can predict out only three to five days so that the team would get notice of only 48 hours that things looked good, and then just 12 hours to get to the launch site.
With a timetable that tight, Lorenz was ready weeks ahead so when the word came everything would be in place to inform the national media that the launch was about to take place. The major worldwide news wires, CNN as well as Chicago and Rockford, Illinois, media outlets, were personally notified by Lorenz to be ready for a flight at any time. Press releases were prepared, waiting only for the dates, times and a few other particulars to be filled in, and all queued up to immediately go out by auto-fax send, e-mail, newswire services, and by phone.
Lorenz was vacationing in Florida with his family when the call came and he engaged the media notification plan that was in place. The auto-faxes were launched, e-mails sent out from his laptop, and calls made to wire services which already had the announcements queued up to go. Flying from Florida to Rockford, Lorenz kept in touch via cell phone and the phone in the planes. “One good thing about my business,” says Lorenz, “I can do it from just about anywhere.”
“I immediately introduced myself to the media, provided press packets, and made sure everyone was aware of the great Web site developed by the Illinois Institute of Technology. I would refer media to hidden files on the Web site so the press could access and print out directions to the launch site and to our communications center in Homewood, Illinois. This saved valuable time we could spend on other important matters.We were handling hundreds of calls a day and wanted to make sure they obtained the most up-to-date and accurate information, so we regularly referred media to the Web site.”www.j.renee.iit.edu
“After a while a routine developed and we even referred the media to the Web site while they were in the communications office, in an effort to be as efficient as possible. When you get the same question 500 times in three days, it helped to say ‘check out this Web site’.”
Interest from the media worldwide was so great that the communications center was manned 24 hours a day, with Lorenz and others working shifts of 14-35 hours. “There was a terrific interest in this flight,” said Lorenz. “The phone calls came in droves, hundreds and hundreds a day. During the 10-day flight the Web site recorded more than 20 million hits and three weeks later was still receiving 56,000 hits a day.”
“Media relations played an all-important part in communicating to the world press and world leaders about Kevin’s flight. Feme Oke, a weathercaster who took a personal interest in the flight, reported his progress daily on the CNN International weather forecast. World leaders including the Iranian and Chinese as well as others who still had not granted flight clearance watched her weather report. The worldwide credibility of CNN’s reports helped the team obtain these all-important flight clearances,” says Lorenz.
“Interest and excitement became so intense during the 10-day flight that there were more than 3,000 newscasts and TV program reports in the U.S. alone,” said Lorenz. “We arranged for Kevin to give live satellite phone interviews while flying over Africa and Puerto Rico, in press conference at the communications center and via a conference call where members of the press could call and listen in. When flight conditions allowed it he did live exclusive interviews with the BBC in London, Inside Edition, The CBS Early Show and CNN.”And then there was Reuters, the French news services, Paul Harvey, and live interviews with team members with 5-8 TV and radio stations daily beginning at 5:30 a.m.
“Here’s Kevin at 32,000 feet, traveling in the jet stream at 130 MPH with an outside temperature of –56 degrees, he’s breathing oxygen through a face mask, sounding like Darth Vader when he talks, and we’re sitting on the ground in relative comfort, living through his descriptions of the hair-raising, at times, flight. He had to stop talking to take deep breaths to get enough oxygen on a frequent basis during the phone calls, adding to the drama, it was then that everyone began to realize how dangerous this flight really was. It was just Kevin, the balloon, and the will of nature. At anytime anything could happen, and it did.”
These few headlines, selected from hundreds worldwide, give a feeling of the widespread, intense media interest in Kevin’s flight:
U.S. BALLOONIST OVER MICHIGAN IN SOLO FLIGHT TRY
BALLOONIST GLIDES TOWARD COAST
BALLOONIST CRUISES AND SNOOZES
AMERICAN BALLOONIST DODGES CARIBBEAN STORMS
BALLOONIST WEATHERS GRUELING DAY
BALLOONIST FULFILLING A DREAM
Anchorage Daily News:
RECORD-SETTING SOLO BALLOONIST NEARS INDIA
HIMALAYAS LOOM AHEAD OF SOLO BALLOONIST
SOLO BALLOONIST ENDS ROUND-THE-WORLD ATTEMPT IN ASIA
SOLO BALOONIST ENDS TRIP IN MYANMAR
BALLOONIST ‘ELATED’ BY RECORD JOURNEY
Lorenz also played a prominent role as spokesperson for the flight, as indicated by these paragraphs lifted from news stories during the flight:
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal – March 2
But Uliassi never wanted the distance record; he wanted the whole globe,said Scott Lorenz, a spokesman at Uliassi’s own version of mission control in the Chicago suburb of Homewood. “The record is not important to Kevin Uliassi,” Lorenz said. “Kevin’s goal for many years now has been to be the first person to fly solo in a balloon around the world.”
Associated Press – Feb. 29
To celebrate his arrival to the big continent, Uliassi contacted a florist from his balloon and sent African violets to his ground crew members, Lorenz added. “That was pretty nice of him,” he said. “Especially since he spent much of the night awake because the lens on a detection device had frosted over and was indicating that there was no flame on the balloon when in fact there really was.”
Associated Press – March 3 Uliassi had faced a tough choice. Because crossing the Atlantic took longer than anticipated — he had to change altitude several times to avoid thunderstorms — Uliassi was unsure whether he had enough fuel and supplies to make it across the Pacific and finish the journey. “In any long-distance balloon flight there are several points where or a ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ decision has to be made,” Lorenz said late Thursday. “It’s water, water everywhere and it’s several days without any land in sight.”
“The media interest was fabulous and incredible,” adds Lorenz. “At one time, I was talking to Good Morning America on my landline phone and at the same time the Today Show was calling in on my cell phone. For a PR person, that’s as good as it gets. It was truly a constant news-creating event. Without a question, this was the most intense job I was ever involved with and has truly prepared me to deal with the pressures of working with the media on any breaking or big story.”
Would he do it again? Lorenz says that if Kevin Uliassi decides to give the global balloon flight another try he’s up to the challenge. “We have been part of Kevin’s team now for four years; we’re with him until he does it.”
Members of the Media Relations Team
About Westwind Communications
Scott Lorenz is President of Westwind Communications, a public relations and marketing firm that has a special knack for working with individuals and entrepreneurs to help them get all the publicity they deserve and more. Lorenz has handled public relations and marketing for numerous doctors, lawyers, authors inventors and entrepreneurs since 1980 and is an integral part of the marketing strategy for many firms. The firm’s extensive media contacts have produced volumes of clippings and hours of television and radio coverage, including major reports on Good Morning America, CNN, ABC Nightly News, Nightline, MSNBC, PBS, the Sci-Fi Channel, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Family Circle, and Woman’s World to name a few. For more information contact Scott Lorenz at [email protected] or call 734-667-2090.