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Repositioning Boeing

The Challenge
After 85 years in Seattle, in 2001 Boeing announced it was moving its headquarters to Chicago. The headlines weren’t pretty. Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Alan Mulally needed to know how the decision had affected Boeing’s statute in its ancestral home state and, what might need to be done about it. Don Stark and his team went to work to find out what had happened to public opinion. His firm had already conducted research for Boeing in the 1990s he could use as a comparison. The result was dire.

The public thought Boeing was no longer committed to Washington state and that it would eventually move out entirely. Focus group participants characterized their relationship with Boeing as being like a failed marriage. Perhaps most significant was public perception that Boeing was a company of the past rather than one of the future. If that was so, it would unlikely that they would support legislative or other efforts to address Boeing’s needs.


The Approach
In further research Stark found the public resonated with the characteristics of Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner: better fuel efficiency, lower emissions, quieter. These advantages connected with Northwesterners’ values and also conveyed the idea that there might be a future for Boeing after all. With these insights, the company embarked on an aggressive communications effort to tell the 787 story.


The Results
Subsequently, the legislature passed substantial tax incentives for Boeing and the aerospace industry. After Boeing announced it would assemble the 787 locally, further research was conducted. All of the key variables, such as those indicating the belief that Boeing was committed to the state and that Boeing was a technological leader, continued to trend upward.

Communication of these messages continued and helped Boeing regain its position as one of the Northwest’s most admired companies.


Case Study:  SR 99...









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