BAE Systems names Weber Shandwick AOR

WASHINGTON: BAE Systems has formalized its longstanding relationship with Weber Shandwick by naming the agency its AOR after a competitive review that stretched over the last year.

WASHINGTON: BAE Systems has formalized its longstanding relationship with Weber Shandwick by naming the agency its AOR after a competitive review that stretched over the last year. The PR firm had worked with the global defense company, which manufactures systems for air, land, and naval forces, for more than a decade when BAE decided to issue an RFI in the spring of 2010.

Brian Roehrkasse, VP of PR at BAE Systems, said the company realized that it needed an AOR in place to support its wide variety of objectives in order to compete in the marketplace. It went through “a fairly lengthy” review process, because “we wanted to make sure we had a rigorous review,” said Roehrkasse.

“We had over a dozen agencies that responded, and then we down-selected to a handful that submitted a proposal, and then a few finalists for oral presentations,” he said.

The annual contract's budget is in the six-figures, according to Roehrkasse.

Roehrkasse said BAE selected Weber in August. He praised the agency's “ability to support our key objectives during a critical time in the industry.”

“We have diverse needs, and our corporate profile has grown in Washington,” he said. “We needed an agency to support outreach to national opinion makers. Weber Shandwick met those needs in a cost-efficient manner.”

As AOR, Weber will support BAE headquarters, including positioning its executives, as well as product launches, public affairs, and some social media work. An AOR “will ensure we'll have a consistent approach,” Roehrkasse added.

In the past, the agency worked more often on projects within BAE's business units, rather than corporate work, said Eric Pehle, EVP at Weber Shandwick and the account lead from its Minneapolis office. In 1999, the agency began working with United Defense, which was later acquired by BAE Systems.

“We're proud of our longstanding relationship with BAE Systems,” Pehle said. “We approached it as we would any new business pitch. We knew we had to go in and demonstrate we still had the hunger for this, had the right people on this, and could provide them with the strategic counsel they need.”

Edelman handled social media work for BAE Systems until earlier this year. Rob Rehg, president of Edelman's Washington operations, declined to comment on the consolidation of the account. Roehrkasse said Podesta Group continues to work on government relations, and BAE has some relationships with PR consultants, but Weber will do the bulk of its work.

The defense industry, like other industries, is fighting to keep itself from the chopping block as the government looks to rein in spending. The very public debate over the country's growing debt has left the fate of industries such as defense and healthcare in the hands of a bipartisan congressional super committee, which must agree to a number of cuts before Thanksgiving.

Just last week, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) launched a public affairs campaign, “Second to None,” defending the industry against further cuts. As a member of the association, BAE Systems is supporting the campaign, which champions the jobs that the aerospace and defense industry supply to the US economy. The campaign also argues that the industry has already suffered enough budget cuts.

“It's a very tough environment to operate in right now and they recognize it,” said Pehle. “As a strong player in the defense industry, they know they need to break through the clutter. We need to demonstrate why they are the best possible.”

One of the first programs Weber is assisting BAE with is its Hawk AJTS road show, which aims to demonstrate that its Hawk jet training system is the right replacement for the US Air Force's aging T-38 trainer. Kicking off September 19 at the Air Force Association's 2011 Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition, BAE hopes the road show “brings to life what can be done for the Air Force” through in-person simulators and an interactive displays, including videos, posters, and other collateral housed in a 53-foot trailer, Lisa Hillary-Tee, BAE's director of communications for Hawk AJTS, said from the trade show.

BAE saw foot traffic of 250 to 300 people on the first day of the show, she said. The company plans to visit eight more events before the end of the year, as well as instigate a full 2012 schedule.

As the government looks to select its next system amid a challenging budget environment, BAE is emphasizing not only the “need for the program,” but also that it offers an “off-the-shelf,” proven aircraft, Hillary-Tee added.

“We've sold 900 around the world,” she said. “For us, the key thing is to demonstrate the full capabilities of this system to the Air Force customer.”

BAE is planning to launch its first dedicated product page on Facebook, and it is already using Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube as part of the road show.

“The road show will provide direct interaction with US Air Force, and there's also the opportunity to reach out to the media and social media, and the public as we go across the country, while also providing support to reach decision makers in Washington and across the country about advantage of the Hawk system,” added Greg McCarthy, SVP at Powell Tate, Weber Shandwick's Washington office.

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