What better way to amplify a brand than to create your own viral meme? We asked the team at MSP-C, who create Sky magazine for Delta Air Lines each month, to share how the cover that recently generated global attention came to be.
“It’s almost impossible to predict when content will go viral,” says Jayne Haugen Olson, MSP-C’s VP of content, “but the creative directors and editors of Delta Sky magazine knew there was a good chance their July cover—featuring Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—would generate some major buzz.”
And it did. Aside from massive social media hype, the cover caught the attention of outlets ranging from Time and Harper’s Bazaar to Buzzfeed and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The reaction was a mix of good timing thanks to a wave of Trudeau-love in the U.S. (and globally) and the fact that Trudeau is a handsome and charismatic guy.
But the people who lit the fuse were Sky’s talented creative directors—Brian Johnson and Michael Norseng—and Toronto-based photographer Caitlin Cronenberg, known for shooting high-profile celebrities.
In addition, Sky’s booking agents were integral to the process, making nearly daily calls to the prime minister’s office to check on the status of the cover ask, during which they hyped Sky’s reach—5.9 million readers a month, the most of any U.S. inflight magazine—and discussed the planned travel content—pegged specifically to Canada’s 150th anniversary.
The issue was designed to celebrate Canada and, less overtly, Delta’s strong service to and from our neighbors to the north. The prime minister’s office saw this as a great opportunity to promote tourism. All in all, the issue was a win-win.
The Trudeau photo shoot took place in Ottawa just weeks before press date, and the content team deliberately chose a Canadian writer and photographer to do the story and accompanying art.
For the interview, Sky executive editor Sarah Elbert enlisted a former colleague, Luiza Ch. Savage, who hails from Ottawa but now works in Washington as the editorial director of Politico Events (and happens to know Trudeau’s former summer camp counselor). Savage started the day by interviewing Trudeau about his favorite places in Canada, his country’s role on the world stage and his father’s legacy as a former prime minister himself. A commitment to high-quality journalism is a strategic goal of Sky, which is what helps land cover subjects of Prime Minister Trudeau's caliber.
Prime Minister Trudeau with Luiza Ch. Savage.
Then it was on to the photo shoot—originally slated to be outdoors but moved to the National Gallery of Canada just days before as the result of torrential rains. When it came to styling and wardrobe, the goal for Delta and Sky creatives was to show an accessible side of Trudeau; fortunately, he agreed to be photographed without a jacket or tie.
Caitlin Cronenberg photographing Trudeau.
The team mapped out three distinct shots within a 50-foot space. Despite the security presence and Trudeau’s high-profile role as a head of state, Norseng says the shoot “was very low key.” The prime minister even nonchalantly balanced a chair on his fingers, which made it into the final layout. After 15 minutes, the shoot was a wrap.
A few days prior to the magazines hitting the stands (er...seat pockets), Delta shared the cover image in a press release and on its online news hub. (This in itself is not typical protocol, which meant even our client knew we were sitting on something hot.) And, the rest, as they say, is history.
Read next: A Decade of Delta Sky Magazine