Award-winning communications experts in the built environment

Case Study

Save Southampton Airport runway campaign

Southampton Airport has one of the UK’s shortest runways, which resulted in a dependence upon Flybe for 89% of its passenger traffic


First UK airport to secure permission to extend its runway since 2011, which was achieved by mobilising the disengaged to turn 68% public opposition to 60% support and decisive Council approval.


While the airport had developed plans to lengthen the runway to reduce this reliance, the collapse of Flybe and the consequent loss of flights presented an existential challenge. Without a runway extension to attract new airlines, the future of the airport was in very real doubt and thousands of jobs across the region were at risk.

Southampton submitted its plans to Eastleigh Borough Council in late 2019, prior to BECG’s involvement, but its application faced extremely well-organised opposition. The initial public consultation showed that nearly 68% of respondents opposed the plans – a backdrop that made approval highly unlikely.

How we assisted

  • Focus on mobilising the disengaged, predominantly through digital and social media
  • Strategy built upon social media mapping and research to identify potential advocates
  • Focus on owning the narrative and controlling the message
  • Emphasis on the benefits and positive social value of the airport
  • Integrated campaign including digital, social media, video, design, media relations, and stakeholder engagement

Integrating digital campaigning with message-craft
A Facebook survey, carefully targeted at audiences chosen for their geography, interests, and relationship with the airport was launched. The objective was to identify
advocates and determine why people supported the airport. The survey not only uncovered more than 1,800 potential supporters, but also shaped the campaign around a variety of voices: from students to commuters, families to holidaymakers and Channel Island residents accessing medical services in Hampshire hospitals.

Using digital to mythbust and promote key messages
The opposition had a head start; they had been successful in delivering impactful negative messaging which was landing well. It was important for the airport to take control of the narrative, address misconceptions and become the ‘centre of truth’ for the application. This was achieved through several communications tools:

  • Producing original creative assets for social media, including Factographics – designed-up killer facts reinforcing the argument or responding to misinformation – and Quotographics – illustrated resident quotes from the Facebook survey highlighting an supportive argument.
  • Innovative social content, including animated GIFs, short videos featuring the airport’s Operations Director, and a shareable campaign poster.
  • Creating a devoted digital hub on the airport’s website. It included evolving FAQS, as well as a series of downloadable mythbuster newsletters, designed by BECG’s in-house creative team, on subjects such as sustainability, jobs, noise, and net zero.
  • The newsletters provided swift, effective, and creative responses to concerns and points of clarification identified from feedback and were proactively issued to the identified contacts.
  • Consistent engagement with the local broadcast and print media, proactively emphasising the benefits and the growing public support, managing press enquiries and responding to misinformation.
  • Briefings with politicians to emphasise key issues and clarify areas of concern.

Supporter Mobilisation
Our research identified that there was a clear groundswell of support for the plans; the challenge was to motivate people to make their voices heard. BECG therefore mobilised support from:

  • Local residents – We deployed the engaging assets we had created via targeted social media, while emailing the advocates our social media work had identified, directing both to clear calls-to-action on the website.
  • Business community – We reached out to regional business representatives, major local companies, and small, community businesses. At our urging, they provided endorsement quotes we could send out via social media, mobilised their networks to sign petitions, emailed Councillors, and gave speeches at Full Council.
  • Airport staff and identified supporters under the flightpath – We engaged with both groups, encouraging them to write to Councillors and register Full Council statements explaining how the airport benefits the community.
    The calls-to-action were clear: to submit planning file comments during the consultations; to email Councillors before the planning hearing; and to register supportive statements for Full Council.
  • Politicians – Following our advice, the local MP expressed support on social media, wrote to Councillors, organised a petition, raised the scheme in Parliament, and spoke at Full Council. Contact with Channel Island Governments prompted them to send letters of support to Eastleigh.
    The campaign culminated in an interactive digital Committee Briefing for the Councillors. The document illustrated the support we had mobilised digital campaigning using designed quotes, heat maps, and charts.

The results

  • BECG mobilised 4,727 supportive comments – an increase of 4,475.
  • The proposal was raised in Parliament
  • The scheme was endorsed a host of major regional businesses.

The Council voted decisively to approve the proposals. Community support was a compelling part of the airport’s case. Month’s of social and digital work had built a base of supporters, who scores of positive statements, that were read out before the decision.

The consent represents a landmark achievement, as it is the first time that a UK airport has secured permission to extend its runway since 2011.

Your team had to fire up the general public to vote to save the airport. And, wow, they did it! The targeting was most effective and the results show the effect and impact. The staff at the airport are delighted, they have job security for the first time in a year. A large amount of that is down to your superb team.

Operations Director, Southampton Airport

The support, advice and expertise from BECG was absolutely central to us securing last week’s result, which has safeguarded the future of Southampton Airport. For BECG to have galvanised support in the way they did was a major achievement and we were lucky to have them on our side.

Head of Communications, AGS Airports

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