Cannes Lions

LAUNCHING AL JAZEERA AMERICA

QORVIS COMMUNICATIONS, Washington Dc / AL JAZEERA / 2014

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Overview

Description

Launching Al Jazeera America was always going to be a tough sell.

In August 2013, the Al Jazeera Media Network planned to launch its first news channel in the U.S. just eight months following the network’s acquisition of Current TV. With big-name journalistic talent and worldwide bureaus, Al Jazeera America would be a serious new face in the cable news landscape, unbiased and covering news in depth.

But for many Americans, the Al Jazeera name is still associated with Osama bin Laden tapes, Qatari ownership, and anti-American protests. However stellar and award-winning their reporting and journalists may be, persuading Americans to give it a chance was going to be hard.

The PR challenge was to overcome misconceptions and antipathy towards an Arab-owned cable news channel and demonstrate AJ America’s commitment to fact-based, unbiased reporting. The stakes were high: not only would a failure to correct preconceptions affect advertisers and cable television distributors, it could also trigger congressional and regulatory investigations.

The solution was to make Al Jazeera America into a business and financial story: media coverage, social media and community outreach built momentum and tackled negativity, and program and talent announcements showed how the channel was investing in journalism and the media industry.

The results speak for themselves: The media coverage was overwhelmingly positive, and since launch viewing figures have been climbing steadily. The channel recently agreed to be carried by Time Warner, now reaching 55m households including key markets in New York City and Los Angeles.

Execution

During the eight-month campaign, the agency worked closely with Al Jazeera America at the channel’s NY headquarters. Talent and program announcements secured coverage that reassured and educated audiences about the channel’s unbiased/nonpartisan reporting. It also provided American faces and names for media interviews.

At road shows in Chicago and Detroit, where the channel was opening new bureaus, executives attended community events and met with local leaders and potential advertisers, and visited Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. This resulted in positive stories in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Detroit News, and the Detroit Free-Press, among others.

Before the launch of Al Jazeera America, we ran studio tours for almost 100 journalists in NYC and Washington, D.C., and connected 40 journalists with the channel’s CEO and President in a conference call. The network launched on August 20, 2013 with anchors who had come from CNN, MSNBC and NBC.

Outcome

As a high-stakes launch with potential for significant negative outcomes, the positive media coverage was overwhelming:

Output:

1,100+ positive/neutral articles in mainstream/trade media during the eight-month campaign.

149 positive/neutral media stories during launch week.

Minimal negative responses.

Consideration:

National Press Foundation: "Best launch of a news channel since CNN."

USA Today: “The new network offers serious news with no flair, partisan wrangling and no tabloid fare.”

PBS Newshour: ‘When many news networks are scaling back operations, Al Jazeera has expanded its efforts, launching all new programming featuring…in-depth domestic reporting and fewer commercials’.

Business Impact:

The team built Al Jazeera America’s reputation as a fact-based, unbiased news channel and got viewers to give the channel a chance. Thanks in large part to the very positive media coverage, the channel is now carried by Time Warner Cable, reaching over 55m households including key markets in New York City and Los Angeles.

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